Kubrick’s Smoke and Mirrors: 50 Years of The Shining

Savaged by the critics on release, Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining is now the Ulysses of film analysis

More has probably been written about Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining than any other of his canon, even 2001: A Space Odyssey. But what is it that compels sad people like myself to be constantly analysing every scene, every character, every iconographic element, every shot, even things that are not necessarily there?

But isn’t this why so many films prevail and maintain their interest with the viewing public and why so many films become classics rather than those that sweep over you and you’ve forgotten everything about before you’ve left the cinema?

It’s a criminally overused word and I’d avoid using it if I could but The Shining encapsulates everything about the adjective ‘iconic’. For me, it’s one of the few films that is not only better than it’s source material but actually transcends its genre. It irritates me hugely when I hear people refer to it as a horror film. It’s so much more than that. So much so that I won’t even try to describe it generically. On its release so many critics dismissed it for not having ‘enough shocks‘, for being ‘too slow or plodding‘ in its narrative, characters who were ‘hard to connect with‘. It was more than 10 years before critics began to re-evaluate it and see it as a film that broke generic, narrative and technical boundaries and it’s why viewers are still discussing it today.

Stanley Kubrick only made 12 films in 45 years. Half of this number were made in his first 10 years as a major studio director between 1955 and 1964. But his output not only became increasingly complex in style and narrative but covered most genres including science fiction, historical drama, comedy, war, dystopian fantasy and, ok, horror (but in its widest possible context!). His blockbuster SF film which trumpeted the fact ‘genius at work‘, 2001: A Space Odyssey was like nothing ever seen before in cinema. Over 50 years after its release it still seems way ahead of its time. The success of 2001 meant Kubrick could pick and choose what his next project was going to be and, true to form, he surprised the film world by choosing a fairly obscure dystopian fantasy novel by prolific British writer and academic Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange (much more on this below). The furore this film caused, particularly in Kubrick’s adopted home in the UK caused him to withdraw it within a year of its release. He went on to make the uncontroversial historical drama Barry Lyndon, again from a lesser known Thackeray novel which, although performing reasonably well financially, it was, at the time, seen as a critical failure. Like so many of Kubrick’s films, Barry Lyndon has been re-appraised in recent years and seen as much more of a success than it was when released.

After the critical maulings he received for A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Kubrick decided on a different approach to his next project. He was going to make a film that would have widespread appeal due to its subject matter but would bear heavily the unique Kubrick stylistic imprint. And after reading many, many horror stories (some for only the first couple of pages) he landed upon a recent Stephen King novel entitled The Shining. Here he could see possibilities but that meant jettisoning much of King’s original story and retaining, pretty much, only the conceit and general framework of the source material. This, of course, did not please Stephen King although, over the years, he seems to have made his peace slightly with Kubrick’s version. And so he should as Kubrick removed many of the silly fantastical elements such as topiary animals which come to life and much of the run-of-the-mill hotel backstory and created an atmosphere and narrative that still fascinates.

To begin with the poster for the film is as enigmatic as the film itself. Kubrick was big enough in the film world at the time to go for the best and it was to the legendary Saul Bass he approached to come up with something suitably cryptic. Bass was responsible for classic poster and opening credit sequences for some of the greatest films ever made. In fact, often Bass’s work is remembered when the film may not be. He’s even credited with directing one of the most famous and most brilliant scenes in the history of cinema, the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

And Bass didn’t disappoint in the esoteric stakes coming up with an image that didn’t even appear in the film. Bass’s original design was red and featured a pointillistic, cartoonish doll-like character but typically Kubrick liked the image but opted for a yellow rather than red poster. Recently I attended the Kubrick exhibition at The Design Centre in London. There they displayed a number of other designs Bass had come up with, many of which, to me, were considerably more effective than the poster chosen. But there’s no point in attempting to fathom why Kubrick made the decisions he did. You just have to assume he’s usually right.

Three rejected Saul Bass posters with Kubrick’s hand-written comments

I don’t intend in this blog article to even summarise the story of The Shining as, in the unlikely event of anyone reading this article, most people will have seen the film anyway or at least know what happens in it. My purpose is to highlight some of the elements which make The Shining a film that so people return to again and again and constantly reinterpret. So my approach, as usual, will be scattergun, rambling and sometimes abstruse but this is what The Shining brings out in people like me. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

The film begins in suitably Kubrickian expansive way with aerial shots of the Torrance’s yellow beetle car moving beetle-like across a vast Coloradan landscape. Kubrick used electronic composer Wendy Carlos again to create the dark, foreboding, brooding soundtrack which accompanies the main characters journey towards their winter caretaking stint at the soon-to-be desolate Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains. Carlos had created the futuristic soundscapes for Kubrick’s previous film A Clockwork Orange and The Shining would be her last collaboration with Kubrick as, according to her, too many compositions to accompany scenes in the film did not make it into the final cut. Anyone watching this film for the first time would be left in no doubt that these tiny characters were heading towards adversity given the tone and atmosphere built up by the musical opening.

The central character, Jack Torrance is played by Jack Nicholson who was Kubrick’s first choice for the role. Other actors to be considered included Robert De Niro, who it was possible to envisage as Torrance, Robin Williams, who it wasn’t, and Harrison Ford, who would have been more in keeping with Stephen King’s ideas for the part. Rather than Nicholson’s manic and menacing turn almost from scene 1, King wanted to see a decent character gradually deteriorate psychologically becoming a threat to his family through months of cabin fever in the Overlook Hotel and due to other types of supernatural influence. Nicholson’s performance was ridiculed as being overblown and hammy by many critics at the time but and one can’ t help but think that the meticulous Kubrick liked the idea of Nicholson’s, allegedly, coke-fuelled mania which just added to Torrance’s psychological collapse and descent into madness.

Jack’s first major appearance where he is interviewed for the job of out-of-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel immediately sets the scene for the rest of the film. He’s informed of a brutal murder which took place around 10 years before when the caretaker, at the time, Charles/Delbert Grady, went mad and killed his wife and two young girls with an axe. From then on Jack’s mental deterioration and gradual homicidal path is brilliantly represented through a series of masterly images and set pieces, leading to a ground-breaking steadi-cam inspired denouement in the hotel’s freezing maze.

The interview scene is intercut with scenes of Danny talking to a character he refers to as ‘Tony’ who is ‘inside his mouth’ who ‘tells him things’. Through Tony, Danny can see into the future and possesses abilities ordinary people don’t. Tony tells Danny something so terrifying Danny faints in utter shock and we are made aware that this has to do with the place they are going to be spending the winter the Overlook Hotel. When they arrive there Danny immediately strikes up a friendship with the hotel’s cook, Halloran, who has the same abilities and calls it ‘shining.’ Halloran is able to see Danny has these abilities but also makes him aware of what might happen when he is in the hotel alone and warns him off entering room 237. Soon Danny is seeing disturbing images from the hotel’s past which link to what Jack was told during his interview.

Much of the debate about the film surrounds the question of whether the hotel is actually haunted by the ghosts of its bloody past or is it all happening in Jack and even Wendy and Danny’s heads. This is where Kubrick diverges significantly with King. In Kubrick’s Overlook events are open to interpretation, nothing is ever quite what it seems and often metaphorical.

One of the enduring and memorable images from the film is of the elevator doors in the main reception opening and a torrent of blood emerging from them. This is a nightmare Danny experiences on more than one occasion, a nightmare that foreshadows the terrible events awaiting him at the Overlook Hotel.

Another criticism of the film, according to critic Roger Ebert, is that it lacks a ‘reliable’ observer. Jack is clearly unreliable from almost the moment he enters the hotel, Wendy is too sensitive and almost afraid of Jack to be aware of everything happening around her and there is so much going on in Danny’s head that it’s difficult to know just what exactly is really happening at any point in the film. This, I believe, is exactly what Kubrick wanted, if the characters are confused and bewildered then so will the audience.

All three characters see the ‘ghosts’ of the hotel at different times. Danny sees them from almost the moment he enters the hotel and this is due to his supernatural abilities. But Jack’s spectral encounters take longer to happen and are more problematic. Does he really see ghosts or is it his deteriorating psyche that is responsible for these illusions or even his alcoholism? Kubrick, of course, deliberately creates these enigmatic confrontations.

Your money’s no good here Mr. Torrance

Jack’s first meeting is with barman Lloyd after being accused by Wendy of attacking Danny. Here we find that Jack may have a problem with alcohol after he relates the story of when he injured Danny when he was still very young. Lloyd plies Jack with whisky, ‘Your money’s no good here Mr Torrance.’ But is this merely Jack losing his grip on reality with his desperation for a drink fermenting his delusions. Is he really drinking alcohol or just imagining it? Later in the film Jack walks into the ballroom again and this time it’s populated by the ghosts of the guests of the hotel from many years ago. As well as encountering Lloyd again he literally bumps into Delbert Grady, the former caretaker who killed his family some years previously. A chilling conversation takes place in the blood-red toilet as Grady cleans up the drink he spilt on Jack. It is here that we as viewers begin to almost accept that Jack is in conversation with a murderous ghost as Grady warns him of Halloran coming to help Danny and Wendy. If Grady was a figment of Jack’s feverish imagination how would Jack have known this? Grady advises Jack euphemistically that maybe Danny and Wendy need ‘correcting‘. We , as viewers at this point, know exactly what Grady is suggesting.

Perhaps they need ‘correcting’…

These pivotal ‘ghostly’ scenes where Jack supposedly meets both Delbert Grady and Lloyd the barman feature two stalwarts of Kubrick films, Philip Stone and Joe Turkel. Both actors appeared in three Kubrick films, more than any other actor. Stone also appeared in A Clockwork Orange and Barry Lyndon, Turkel in The Killing and Paths of Glory. Both play parts of chilling low-key menace.

A second similar question arises when Jack is locked in the food store by Wendy. He hears Grady outside once again encouraging him to bring Danny and Wendy into line. And eventually the door is opened for him. If not a ghost, who lets Jack out? A few theories have been suggested as to how Jack escapes from the store room. For me the most plausible is that Danny let him out. Maybe Danny knew that this was the only way he was going to stop Jack murdering his mother and him and leading him into the maze was the most effective way. So why didn’t Kubrick let us see Danny do this? For the same reason so many other events were cloaked in mystery. Of course the director wants to keep us guessing, hence the lack of a reliable narrator which is just too predictable for Kubrick. He wants us to be as bemused, bewildered and beguiled as the characters. So if that’s the smoke, what about the mirrors? You may well ask.

As Jack prowls around the corridors and rooms of the Overlook, each time he appears to encounter some sort of apparition, mirrors are very close by. In Room 237, in the toilet when he encounters Grady, at the back of the bar when he encounters Lloyd the barman and even on the shiny metallic door when he hears Grady outside the storeroom. So does this mean that these ghosts are real or are they just transpositions or reflections of his own crumbling sanity? Is the evil he is apparently confronting just the mirror image of his own psychological deterioration? In the novel Jack finds a scrapbook which includes news clippings and photographs of things that happened at the Overlook since its opening in 1910, he already knew about Grady and maybe Lloyd the barman was a former employee he read about. In the film we see, at one point, the scrapbook sitting on Jack’s work table but is never referred to. It seems as if Kubrick, once again, decided that this was too much of an explanation or backstory for the events that followed and that he’d prefer viewers to be left rather more in the dark.

And let’s not forget about Wendy. Despite being oblivious, seemingly, to some of the things that are happening before her very eyes, when the shit hits the fan and she is frantically looking for Danny through the dimly lit back corridors of the Overlook, she almost literally bumps into some of the ghosts of the hotel past. The elderly man with the wound in his head, the man in the bear suit performing something beastly on another tuxedoed guest suddenly appear to her. Why?

In the US version of the film she runs into the ballroom to be met with previous guests, maybe the ones that were partying when Jack stumbled into Grady, but this time they are all skeletons. Strangely, Kubrick cut this scene from the European version of the film. Once again, did he feel a European audience didn’t need to be hit over the head metaphorically with images showing the ghosts of the hotel revealing themselves to Wendy? The skeleton scene, for me, is a step back into Carry On Screaming territory and detracts from the brilliantly enigmatic aspects of The Shining.

This place is dead.

But the question still remains. Why did it take so long for Wendy to see these apparitions? At the start of the film Halloran suggested to Danny that ‘shining’ might run in the family. He said that his grandmother and he used to have conversations without even opening their mouths as they both had the shining. So where did Danny get it? Danny clearly tries to suppress his abilities. He’s almost embarrassed to admit it to Halloran and maybe Wendy has suppressed this talent until she became so stressed that her shining began to manifest itself and she started to see the ghosts of the hotel through her unfiltered perception. Or maybe Jack also has the shining, hence his ability to encounter the characters from the hotel’s past. It might also explain why he knew about Halloran’s return.

The man in the bear suit is puzzling. At first I thought it was a reference to an episode from King’s novel that happened many years before the Torrances arrived at the Overlook. A gangster who stayed there used to humiliate one of his hangers-on by making him dress up and bark like a dog with tragic consequences. However, the man, if it is a man, is wearing what looks like a bear suit. A perfectionist like Kubrick would not substitute a dog suit for a bear suit for no reason. However, Rob Ager at www.collativelearning.com makes a very compelling case for this being part of an elaborate series of clues planted by Kubrick to suggest that Jack had been sexually abusing Danny. Now this might seem a bit of a stretch but it’s worth checking out what this analysis by Rob Ager has come up with. Certainly food for thought.

Another aspect of the film which is far superior to the novel is the ending. In the novel one of Jack’s main roles as caretaker is to look after the antiquated heating system which, after his breakdown, is neglected leading to Danny and Wendy escaping from the hotel with Halloran’s help just as the boiler blows up killing Jack who was still in there. The film version ending features one of the great edits in cinematic history cutting from a long scene with jack bellowing like a wounded animal to a static daylight image of him frozen to death. Sadly, for me, the final slow zoom into the photograph on the wall of the Overlook reception, finally focusing on Jack’s doppelgänger in the July 4th 1921 ball, suggesting Jack has been there in a previous life (You have always been the caretaker…) almost ruins the ending completely. But not quite. It’s as if Kubrick felt he had to throw the audience some crumbs of explanation but he needn’t have bothered, although it probably placated some critics looking for ‘closure’ of some kind.

The film has been responsible for a number of interesting contributions to popular cultural. The phrase ‘All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy‘ has become synonymous with the film. Jack has been hard at work on his new novel for weeks and even becomes aggressive with Wendy when she interrupts him one day. Jack then disappears from his desk and Wendy looks at the reams of typewritten sheets that he has compiled. To her horror very sheet has this same phrase written in different formations. It is at this point that she realises, although one suspects she always knew, that something has gone seriously wrong with Jack’s mind. Interestingly, other country’s versions used a different idiom to the English version. In Germany it was, rather mundanely, ‘Never Put Off Till Tomorrow What Can Be Done Today.’ Much more poetic was the Italian version: ‘The Morning Has Gold In Its Mouth.’ The French version was slightly more enigmatic: ‘One ‘Here You Go’ is worth two ‘You’ll Have Its’. Hmmm.

Every page typed out by Kubrick himself. Allegedly.

The scene in The Shining that everyone remembers is when Jack crashes through the bathroom door with an axe and announces ‘Heeeerrre’s Johnny!’ where a terrified Wendy cowers. When the film was released in the UK in 1979 few people would have recognised that phrase although everyone in the US would have. America’s biggest chat show was The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson with an audience of millions. This programme was not broadcast in the UK at the time although it was for a short time in the 1980s. Johnny Carson would be introduced each night by his sidekick Ed McMahon with a ‘Heeeerrrre’s Johnny! It was as familiar to American audiences as ‘Ooh Betty!’ was to British audiences in the 70s. Although if Jack had used that one instead it might have had a slightly different effect. Two (quite) interesting facts about this iconic scene. Firstly, Nicholson improvised the line at the time and amazingly for perfectionist Kubrick, he decided to leave it in, and secondly as Jack Nicholson was a trained volunteer fireman the door he chopped down was a real one and, once again, given Kubrick’s meticulousness, a great many doors were harmed in the making of this film.

For a film that was described by one critic as ‘A crashing disappointment..’ at the time is now one of the most analysed films in cinema history, Jonathan Romney of The Guardian was closer to the truth when he called The Shining, ‘..a palace of paradox.‘ For a film that was nominated for more Razzies than any other Kubrick title and nominated for no Oscars (the only Kubrick film not to be) it continues to fascinate and puzzle 50 years since its release. This article has only scratched at the surface of this Joycean maze and there are so many more elements that could have been explored but to paraphrase the Italian idiom changed in the film, The Shining has, and always will, have gold in its mouth.

Kubrick’s smoke and mirrors continue to confound.

Tarbuck Memories: Sunday Night at the London Palladium

How an unlikely new broom helped the winds of change sweep through the entertainment industry in 1965

Every so often the good people at the excellent Talking Pictures TV channel resurrect a fascinating series from long ago which seems more like an architectural dig than a genuine entertainment spectacle, but no less enjoyable. And such is the case with the repeats of that stalwart of 1960s telly, Sunday Night at the London Palladium. The early episodes with a young(ish) Bruce Forsyth, when he still had his real hair, seems like being in the audience at the music hall. A succession of cloned classically trained singers, some acrobats and truly dreadful comedians kept the masses happy for many years. Well, they had little choice. However, something was about to happen in Britain which no-one in that industry at the time saw coming.

Anyone who didn’t live through the sixties will find it almost impossible to understand the impact The Beatles had on society around the world. Every shop sold something Beatles related, every sitcom or comedy programme made a reference to The Beatles, as did every drama and daily serial. Everyone was using words like ‘fab’ and kids were singing Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know I was. ‘The Beatles‘ was written throughout 60s British society like the lettering in Blackpool Rock. And by 1965 things were definitely changing in the media. And that bastion of old-fashioned variety, that throwback to the music halls, the London Palladium was beginning to realise it’s time they moved with the times. Yes, they’d had The Beatles appear there in 1963 when cheeky John Lennon asked them to rattle their jewellery, but that was as more of a novelty.

Some good clean Palladium fun with The Beatles and Brucie although I could think of a better word than ‘nit.’

Since 1955 the show had been attracting up to 20 million viewers every Sunday night with a meat and two veg diet of the established and a few up-and-coming mainstream performers, but occasionally throwing the younger audience a few crumbs, like Cliff and The Shadows. 1965 was the year when the more traditional elements of the entertainment industry realised that The Beatles, along with a few other bands, were not a passing fad. Rock and Roll was here to stay and youth culture, for so long repressed, was now exploding all over the world. But how does a traditional, antiquated, staid Sunday night institution like The Palladium get a piece of the action to keep this clearly massive potential young viewership on board?

Step forward professional scouser, mop top and self-proclaimed friend of The Beatles, comedian, or ‘comic’ as he preferred to be known, Jimmy Tarbuck. The Beatles had put Liverpool on the entertainment map and many other acts such as Gerry and the Pacemakers, Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas, Cilla Black and The Swingin’ Blue Jeans followed. So Tarbuck ticked a number of boxes. The show featured on Talking Pictures TV recently was Tarby’s first show as the new compere in 1965 and, for me, this particular show highlighted not only the changes that were taking place in entertainment but also within society.

His entrance at the start of the show was an interesting calling card to the mostly conservative (with a small and probably a large ‘C’ also) audience and a signal of intention from the producers. The opening bars to the song ‘Look Out World Here I Come‘ were struck up by the Jack Parnell Orchestra and the only thing on stage was a supposed brick wall covered in graffiti with comments about the rivalry between the The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, so far, so topical, and a chalked up ‘Liverpool 5‘, just in case the Scouse associations were a bit too subtle for the southern Palladium audience. The brick wall was also a broad-brushed reference to the urban industrial, recently fashionable landscape of t’north. Suddenly Tarby crashes through the wall as if he’s exploding out of this environment and onto the sophisticated swinging London scene. He launches, slightly out of tune, into the song and dance routine with the Palladium dancers all dressed trendily like he is, although they’re all wearing stockings and high heels and he isn’t, strangely. The song and dance highlighted his Liverpool, mop top roots and announced there was a hip new kid on the block. To think of Tarby as ever being ‘hip’ is a stretch, I know, but on this bastion of entertainment conservatism he, pretty much, was.

His opening routine on this first show was, at best thin, at worst puerile. Whoever wrote this script is unknown, probably deliberately so. IMDB lists Marty Feldman and Barry Took (See Marty Feldman: A Criminally Forgotten Comedy Genius), two of the sixties foremost comedy writers, as occasionally contributing to SNATLP, but there can be no way that the creators of Round The Horne or The Frost Report could be responsible for this drivel. Jokes about Harry Secombe’s girth and Charlie Drake’s stature got big laughs from the audience as another standard 60s pun about Hattie Jacques and Tessie O’Shea being the biggest ‘drawers’ in the business (geddit? Don’t bother) also had the punters rolling in the aisles. Which just demonstrated the fact that they’d paid a fiver for these tickets so were going to damn-well laugh, whatever. Clearly the humour was being written with a yard brush rather than a quill.

The routine continued with some typically 60s regulation Irish whimsy about ‘Paddy’s wife’ who was due to have a baby. A rather elaborate and strange gag followed about a shoe box that appeared on the stage which was sent to Tarby from Mike and Bernie Winters. A reference to their donkey (which escaped me) and the mandatory joke about The Beatles (Ringo Starr and his wife are so rich they’re having to put their money in Zacks. Jesus..) almost completed his opening salvo. But not before a very odd few minutes when he name checked ‘celebrities’ (yes they used that word even then) who just ‘happened’ to be in the audience. Then, as now, it was believed that we are all fascinated to see these demi-gods should we happen to be lucky enough to be in their presence. So Spurs footballer Dave Mackay (celebrity?) had to rise and give the assembled masses an embarrassed wave. But it got better, or worse depending on your viewpoint, and stand up Mike and Bernie Winters! (Jesus Christ, there’s two of them!). That partly explains the shoebox earlier but not really the donkey. And who’s that sitting only half a dozen rows from the front and walking distance to the stage? Why, it’s none other than fellow-scouser Frankie Vaughan! Hey, why not come up here and talk to us? entreats Tarby. Frankie is only too happy to oblige. And you can’t come up here without doing a song for us, Frankie? giggles Tarby. What? Oh ok. How about that one we did in rehearsal? And they launch into the very predictable ‘Side By Side.’

Frankie in customary showbiz mode

Now Frankie Vaughan’s glory days were a long way behind him but he represented, not quite the old guard at the time, but an artist that many of the middle-aged viewers would have identified with. Frankie, also being a Scouser and apparently a big mate of Tarbie’s (who from Liverpool wasn’t, it seemed?), meant Tarby was effusive in thanking Frankie ‘for coming to support him.’ So much of this show appeared to be about Jimmy Tarbuck.

As a comedian Tarby was nothing special. His material was lightweight and run-of-mill and certainly none of it was written by him, but what made him stand out from a plethora of other comics with similarly lightweight and run-of-the-mill material was his cheeky-chappie demeanour which certainly worked for a while until it became passé. The fact he was a Scouser also helped as everything Liverpudlian was looked upon as ultra-fashionable at that time, which must have appealed to the Palladium producers, and to be fair, he was confident and he was very professional in his delivery and his compereing was slick. Like so many other Scouse entertainers who made a decent career out of being working-class (Cilla, Doddy, Askey), in their private lives they were only too happy to turn their backs on that and be subsumed into the Tory fold, humbly accept their OBEs or MBEs and, in Tarby’s case, spend most of the time at the golf club with Brucie, Henry and Ronnie. In fact, when his career began to flag, golf became to Tarby what Schnorbitz became to Bernie Winters. A crutch which just about kept him in the public eye. For a while, at least. When Margaret Thatcher turned 60 Tarby actually baked her a birthday cake. It’s not on record as to what The Iron Lady thought of it, however. But he did have a bit of time on his hands.

Tarby and ‘The Gang’

Tarby would, of course, get his own show with its predictable brand of humour and guests and he would also get a few quiz show hosting gigs. Tarby’s Frame Game, Full Swing ( ah yes, the customary golfing reference) and, probably the most remembered, Winner Takes All. Remembered by the likes of me for it’s utter tediousness but who could forget Tarby’s immortal words, Next question please, Geoffrey? Unbelievably, this show endured from 1975 until 1988, Tarby jumping ship in 1986 to, presumably, play more golf and fund-raise for the Tories.

Another strange interlude took place on this 1965 Palladium show when actress Sara Miles, who was starring in the current box office blockbuster Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, was introduced by Tarby as ‘a beautiful bird‘ and a slightly awkward routine took place where Miles was supposedly trying to publicise her new film and Tarby was trying to stop her. She was eventually left to introduce the next acts and she either got them wrong or this was part of the schtick. Either way, The Searchers new song, When I Get Home, was introduced by that ‘beautiful bird‘ as Wait Till I Get You Home, which was actually quite funny. Certainly funnier than anything Tarby did all night.

Phwoar, what a beautiful bird!

The rest of the line-up for that show was a curious blend of the old, for which the Palladium was associated, and the very new, for which it certainly wasn’t.

Old school acts that evening in 1965 included Edmund Hockridge, Canadian baritone singer from many musicals and ex of Geraldo’s Orchestra and Susan Lane (no, me neither) who screeched for 2 minutes before being replaced on a typically London Palladium revolving stage by those well groomed, unthreatening 60s chart toppers The Searchers (who were pretty good to be fair) with another odd singing drummer.

The Searchers and yet another weird singing drummer

A nod to this time of pretty cataclysmic societal change was the appearance of Peter, Paul and Mary. Stalwarts of the Greenwich Village protest movement, they sang three songs, mostly standards, Gordon Lightfoot’s In The Early Morning Rain, Ewan McColl’s The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and religious ballad If I Had My Way. They were certainly given a decent amount of stage time but whether anyone in the audience knew what they stood for is uncertain.

Greenwich Village comes to the Palladium

And talking about cataclysmic, however, top of the bill were Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Yes, top of the bill! If ever an act was completely at odds with what Sunday Night at the London Palladium stood for it was Pete and Dud. If The Beatles dominated popular culture during the mid-sixties, Pete and Dud dominated grown-up, sophisticated comedy. Their series Not Only..But Also.. had premiered in late ’64 and their first series in January 1965. Cook and Moore had been at the centre of the satire boom in 1962-63 with Beyond The Fringe with Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller, and then the short-lived That Was The Week That Was which Cook had written sketches for. It was rumoured at the time that producer Ned Sherrin had created TW3 for Cook to anchor but while he was away in the US performing BTF, the project was hijacked by David Frost.

The genius that was Pete and Dud

But from BTF, Not Only ..But Also was created, and although it was originally supposed to be a solo project for Moore, Cook was brought in at a later stage and the rest is history, although history that was criminally wiped by the BBC and only a few episodes survive intact.

Coming on the back of the huge success of That Was The Week That Was, NOBA struck a chord with a younger audience that was looking for something different and a little more challenging and provocative after the 50s and early 60s diet of predictable, formulaic comedy and entertainment that was embodied by SNATLP and a plethora of sitcoms broadcast at the time. It was no coincidence that John Lennon appeared in two early episodes of NOBA giving it his endorsement just before Pete and Dud’s Palladium appearance. This, of course, cemented NOBA’s alternative, anti-establishment credentials although this was hardly necessary for most fans.

John Lennon helps out in the first Not Only..But Also..

It’s unknown why the Palladium producers decided to invite Pete and Dud to perform but the fact they were top of the bill suggests they were so popular with sections of the public that they had no choice but to feature them. Pete and Dud’s sketch involving their two most popular characters, the characters that completely epitomise their type of humour were, oddly enough, ‘Pete and Dud‘. Or The Dagenham Dialogues as they were known, where lugubrious know-all Pete pontificates on all aspects of life, whether he knows about it or not, while pretty thick, scruffy Dud tends to agree and enter into conversation, usually unsuccessfully. Any description of the routine fails totally to encompass how brilliantly funny and surreal these sketches were. Cook would unashamedly try to get Dud to corpse during the sketch which added to the genius. These sketches would go on for 10 mins or more and, incredibly, the sketch on SNATLP continued for an unprecedented 13 minutes. Much of it seemed improvised and Dud did corpse at one point. They finished with their famous outro from NOBA, Goodby-eee, which, incidentally, got to number 18 in the Hit Parade in 1965, maybe another reason why they were invited on to the show, they even performed it on Ready Steady Go that year. Half way through the song they were faded out and the ATV logo appeared. The famous rotating stage end-sequence didn’t happen as Pete and Dud must have overrun. And that was very unusual for the Palladium.

One wonders why Pete and Dud accepted this invitation as SNATLP was the type of show they would have unmercilessly taken the piss out of, particularly if some Royal personage had been present. On the one hand they probably found it quite funny that their brand of anti-establishment humour was being performed and broadcast to vast swathes of people in the theatre and TV audience who just wouldn’t get it and might even have been the type of people lampooned in their shows. Certainly laughter from the audience was muted, not to mention nervous. Many just didn’t know where and when to laugh. Jimmy Tarbuck definitely got bigger laughs, but then he would, wouldn’t he? On the other hand, however, all performers want an audience and the bigger the better, so to perform in front of an audience of 15 million must have seemed attractive in a nicely subversive way. Especially with establishment favourites like Mike and Bernie Winters and Tarby (despite his working class credentials) watching. One wonders what they thought of this almost revolutionary brand of humour, although you can probably guess.

Given the cultural vandalism which resulted in much of Pete and Dud’s comedy being destroyed, this footage is a wonderful example of just how brilliant they were and it should be broadcast permanently in a comedy museum (if there was one) to show what being creative, surreal, funny and stretching the comedy boundaries is all about.

Putting this particular 1965 edition of SNATLP into context, it was an uneasy balancing act between the old and the new. The show still had to appeal to its core audience who wanted ‘nice’, unthreatening and well-established acts but it also knew a massive, for the first time, demanding, young audience was waiting in the wings and its survival depended on carrying many of these young, and many older less conservative, people along. Jimmy Tarbuck was carefully chosen by the producers in the hope of appealing to both sets of viewers, his working-class, cheeky-chappie, Scouse credentials appealing to the young while his predictable, unchallenging, conventional brand of humour to the legions of older viewers.

This 1965 show provides a fascinating microcosm of British society at the time with Tarby at the centre of it. Tarby’s reputation didn’t last long. A younger, more sophisticated audience saw right through him as a willing part of the showbiz and social establishment delivering a type of humour that just seemed tired, old-fashioned and cliched . But for a short, very exciting time, he was the unlikely great working-class hope of an entertainment industry and society that was changing rapidly.

I’m not even going to go there….
Now I don’t normally do this but…..

…I happened to watch another episode of Sunday Night at the London Palladium last Sunday and felt the need to share this experience as, despite everything I’ve written above, this episode really had to be seen to be believed. Once again, it wrestled with the conflicts of a changing society, a rapidly shifting audience in terms of age, attitudes and interests and it blindingly fails on most levels.

In this edition, broadcast three weeks after the episode described above, it follows the same format and Jimmy Tarbuck is definitely settling into his new role. He’s still quick, quite professional but fluffs a few lines. But rather than incorporate these into his act and get bigger laughs, he, almost apologetically, points them out to the audience as if he should be upfront admitting to such faux pas. My theory as to why he does this is twofold. Firstly, he’s still so stunned at getting such a high profile, prestigious gig he feels he’s letting the middle to upper class audience down because he so much wants to be one of them. And, secondly, he struggles to be spontaneously funny as he is a deliverer of gags rather than a creator of them, as were most comedians in those days. He could never have been called a ‘funny man.’

So who do we have for our entertainment delectation this week? You may well ask, and in terms of strangeness it’s a line up which screams ’60s!!!,’ with more than a generous dash of weirdness thrown in.

First up, gangster film heavyweight, George Raft. An odd choice you might think and you’d be right. After some lightweight banter with Tarbie anyone would think, ‘Well that’s that over with. Who’s next up?’ But, wait, Raft is far from finished. ‘And I believe you were once a dancer?’ prompts Tarbie. And as the Jack Parnell Orchestra strikes up, George Raft, who was 70 at the time, launches into a dance routine that would not have looked out of place in a Soho strip joint. A dance so camp, performed by a septuagenarian New York tough guy which continued for about five minutes. As strange an opening salvo as you could ever imagine. It’s well documented that George Raft‘s film career dried up during the 50s and Tarbuck just compounded the embarrassment by revealing to the audience just how ‘available’ he was after he had performed,’ And thanks to George Raft for appearing at such short notice…’

But now something for the youngsters. An almost forgotten duo of the type that don’t exist anymore. Put your hands together for Paul and Barry Ryan! Now this pair are very interesting. Identical twins (although they didn’t look that identical to me) of 50s singer Marion Ryan. They were just starting out in the business when they made this SNATLP appearance. I was struck about how lonely they looked together on the vast Palladium stage with just a single microphone for company and how confident they must have had to be to stand there just singing, not even having a guitar to strum. In 1967 this sort of pressure proved too much for Paul Ryan who left the act to concentrate on writing songs for his brother’s solo career. Paul Ryan had some success and wrote a couple of songs that were taken up by Frank Sinatra, amongst others (OK, Dana). One was released as a single, I Will Drink The Wine, which got to No. 16 in the UK charts in 1971 and Sunrise in the Morning, both appeared on Frank’s 1971 album ‘Sinatra and Company‘, which must have been a nice little earner for Paul. He also wrote his most famous song, the wonderfully bombastic ‘Eloise‘, for his brother, which got him to No. 2 in 1968, The Damned’s version getting to No.3 in 1986.

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Paul and Barry Ryan. Wonder if Marion cut their hair?

The song they sang on SNATLP was odd. It was their first hit record achieving a high of No. 13, ‘Don’t Bring Me Your Heartaches,’ it told the story of a doomed romance from a first person perspective. With two identical twins singing identical words it had the feel, to me, of David Cronenberg’s rather sleazy Dead Ringers. This obviously wasn’t the intention but I couldn’t help noticing an amusing strangeness to the whole act. Paul Ryan died, sadly, at the young age of 46 but Barry’s life took an interesting turn in 1978 when he married Tunku (Princess) Miriam binti al-Marhum Sultan Sir Ibrahim, the only daughter of the ‘fabulously wealthy’ Sultan Ibrahim of Johor. The marriage ended in divorce two years later, but what a rollercoaster ride that must have been! Nicely done, Baz.

The star of the show, however, was magician David Nixon. A ubiquitous presence in so many 60s TV programmes, his smooth, articulate style lent itself to live TV. Everyone over the age of 55 will remember David Nixon, no one under 55 will. As well as having a number of variety vehicles showcasing his magic skills, Nixon was a great favourite of panel shows given his effortless ability to talk and be witty in any situation. A long-time panelist on the TV and radio versions of What’s My Line (what an innocent and very un-modern show that was) he introduced the legendary Basil Brush to the airwaves. He even received the highest honour bestowed on any 60s or 70s celebrity worth their salt, a mention in a Half Man, Half Biscuit song (Reflections In A Flat).

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Two 60s legends

Nixon’s act was quite something, in more ways than one. He invited a participant from the audience up on to the stage to help him. The individual invited looked like he’d been hewn out of 50s rock. Tweed suit, brylcreemed hair, pencil moustache. Reg Thompson (for it was he) sat on a chair as Nixon smoothly explained what was going to happen while asking Reg a few details about himself. ‘Do you mind if I ask you what you do for a living?’ schmoozed Dave. Yes, Reg did mind as it happened, which was the only time Nixon appeared slightly non-plussed. The act involved both participants puffing on a fag before Nixon told a very 60s gag which made him out to be, at worst, a rapist and, at best, a sexual predator. But it got a laugh, obviously! The trick was quite sensational and made me realise how interesting a good and slickly performed magic act can be. And David Nixon really was good. He was the sort of TV personality that it was difficult to imagine living an ordinary life. You could really only imagine David Nixon being on telly.

And talking of omnipresent 60s TV personalities, next up, the one and only Mr. Russ Conway! Russ, probably a bit like David Nixon, and Paul and Barry Ryan for that matter, are the kind of TV personalities who were never off the telly in the 60s but would struggle to get a gig today. Russ Conway was a very good-looking pianist who had a load of hits in the 50s and early 60s but his chart days were well behind him. He was still a popular guest on variety shows, however, the perfect act to break up the singer and the comedian, and in this case the magician. He played a rather overblown orchestral piece (well, it was the Palladium I suppose) and then his latest single which was a very jaunty, tinkly little number entitled The Beggars of Rome. By the sound of this piece, they must be the happiest beggars in the world. Russ decided to add one of his own compositions to the ‘B’ side of his record, a down-and-out companion piece called The Urchins of Paris. A laugh a minute on both sides. I really wanted to hear him play Conway classics such as Roulette or Sidesaddle but he wasn’t having it.

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Know what you mean Russ! My mum actually possessed this very album.

Now it was time for that regular feature, ‘Celebs in the Audience’! And what a bunch they had this week, a typically odd triumvirate. Let’s start with Scouse welterweight boxer (and personal friend of Tarby, obviously) Alan Rudkin. Next up, bizarrely, about to take part in Miss World 1965 at the Mecca Ballroom, Miss South Africa, the whiter than white, Carol Davies! And finally 50s crooner Dickie Valentine. I wonder if those individuals were paid to come and sit through this weird hour of light entertainment?

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Dickie Valentine

After this parade of Palladium favourites the producers realised that their slightly less traditional viewers might want something a little more challenging, so who better than Spike Milligan to perform this role? Spike’s stand-up routine was erratic to say the least. A few inspired, quite irreverent gags and a few puerile playing-to-the-galleries attempts at humour. He certainly didn’t hit the heights that Pete and Dud did a few weeks before, but he maintained the Palladium policy of highlighting ‘new’ off-beat comedy acts. The Palladium audience didn’t quite know what to make of Spike but giggled at his daftness, probably not really understanding what he was all about.

At the end of his act the curtains parted to reveal the famous Palladium revolving stage with all the acts waiting to wave goodbye to the theatre and TV audience. In fact, the stage hadn’t begun revolving and with the curtains suddenly opening it caught the performers on the hop and as it juddered into motion a few half-hearted waves began.

In another article above I quoted someone as saying ‘It’s only a small step from light entertainment to surrealism.’ One needs only to watch an episode of Sunday Night at the London Palladium to realise just how true that statement is.

Standing At The Crossroads Of (TV) Quality

Cor, glamorous or what?

Ridiculed for its low production values and described as ‘distressingly popular’, Crossroads continues to live in the memory

In the 1968 film The Killing of Sister George the central character, played by the great Beryl Reid, of a hugely successful soap opera is killed off at the height of her popularity despite her character being greatly loved by the viewing public and her hordes of adoring fans. Of course, this couldn’t happen in real life, could it? You already know where I’m going with this, and, as we all know, this did happen to the star of the 60s and 70s daily serial (I refuse to use that Americanism ‘Soap Opera‘) Crossroads, the sainted Noele Gordon/ Meg Richardson in 1981.

Is there nothing this woman can’t do?

After winning the TV Times Most Popular TV Personality a staggering 8 times, being the only character on permanent contract in its history, being the main talismanic character for 17 years and generally seen as the Crossroads matriarch who, Boudicca-like, drove the chariot of tea-time drama past the slings and arrows of TV criticism, ‘Nolly’ was unceremoniously dumped by new producer William Smethurst in 1981. Referred to as Butcher Bill by some (mainly her), he had been installed to revive the programme’s flagging fortunes in the same way he had done with the The Archers previously. And like the trooper and consummate professional she was, Noele accepted the inevitable, took it on the chin and walked off into the West Midlands sunset to maybe check into a new showbiz three star motel (with swimming pool).

And if you believe that, you’ll believe anything.

Meg third on bill? Not for long if she’s got anything to do with it…

Darts commentator Sid Waddell when describing a particularly tense darts encounter once roared, ‘You might get Shakespeare on BBC 2 but you can’t beat this for drama!’ He could just have inserted ‘Crossroads on ITV’ instead of ‘Shakespeare on BBC‘ and have achieved the same hyperbolic effect. It’s fair to say since its grand opening in 1964 when Jill Richardson picked up the phone in reception and said. ‘Crossroads Motel. Can I help you?‘ that it’s seen more than its fair share emotional turmoil, in front of and behind the cameras. Bigamy, international terrorism, Soviet spying, hauntings, industrial sabotage, alcoholism and, obviously, attempted murder have all darkened the reception of the Crossroads Motel, King’s Oak (with swimming pool).

Some uncharitable commentators at the time saw Crossroads as ‘a byword for cheap production values‘, though many cast members from the show have denied that it was that bad. Wobbly sets and fluffed lines have become synonymous with the show, however, and, to be fair, the 5 days a week 52 weeks a year run was, to say the least, punishing. Retakes were rare and it’s hats off to most of these actors that were able to deliver their lines reasonably well in one take. In all the years I watched Crossroads I don’t remember the amazing Nolly fluff or mistime a single line, which says much about her ability and professionalism, although that can’t be said for all. Crossroads production values were highlighted again some years after its demise when the brilliant and sadly missed Victoria Wood wrote Acorn Antiques, which was obviously based on the motel. Although very, very funny it was also an affectionate tribute and Victoria Wood must have been a fan to have been so accurate in her depiction of aspects of the show.

Created by writers Hazel Adair and Peter Ling, who had been behind the successful early sixties serial about a women’s magazine Compact, which incidentally starred Ronnie Allen, a later stalwart of Crossroads as Manager ‘Dishy’ David Hunter, Crossroads began in 1964. Adair had also written for Emergency Ward 10 and radio blockbuster Mrs Dale’s Diary but in her latter career, interestingly, she turned her hand to writing soft-porn films with, of all people, ITV wrestling commentator and former DJ, Kent Walton. Early 70s sexploitation films such Keep It Up Downstairs (see Jack Wild: The Kid Who Had It All) were amongst the fruits of their endeavours. Now, you have to admit. That’s interesting!

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Peter Ling‘s CV was a little more prosaic but no less interesting. Having written stories for legendary 60s comic The Eagle, he also wrote scripts for a range of solid 60s and 70s TV series including Dixon of Dock Green, No Hiding Place and The Avengers (see The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style). For me though, his most notable achievement was writing The Mind Robber, a superbly clever story from the Patrick Troughton Dr Who years. A truly surreal and hugely creative tale, it was a shining example of a time when Dr Who was still challenging and inventive in its storytelling, despite its Crossroads-like sets. And clearly light years away from the Crossroads Motel, although Meg, without doubt, did have some Time Lord qualities.

Motel hairdresser Vera Downend in wistful mood

The closing sequence of Crossroads is, for people of a certain age, the most familiar theme of the 60s and 70s. Even if you didn’t watch the programme. Composed by easy-listening virtuoso and pop genius Tony Hatch (see Tony Hatch: Composer Of The Soundtrack For The 60s And 70s) with the ever-so-familiar title credits sliding up and down and from the sides (a bit like a crossroads, geddit?), the music had the required element of urgency and pathos which complimented the emotionally charged ending to that particular episode (and it was always emotionally charged), right down to the final glissando on the harp which usually accompanied a 3 second close up on the face of the featured distraught or sometimes wistful character (..and just hold it there please, Vera…………annnnnnnddddd cut! Lovely darling!).

In 1974 Paul McCartney and Wings included a version of the Crossroads theme on their album Venus and Mars (nice little earner for Tony Hatch). In the mid-70s the producers of Crossroads decided to use this version occasionally at the end of particularly sentimental episodes as the Wings version was a little more poignant and sensitive than the original. This decision met with mixed opinions from the legions of Crossroadsaratti but the producers stuck with it to the end. Although I liked Wings at the time it just didn’t quite do it for me in the way Hatch’s original did. But, over the years, it has become synonymous with the later incarnation of Crossroads, but stormier waters than this were yet to be negotiated.

For most of its 24 year run, Crossroads pretty much survived on three main sets: Meg’s office/ sitting room, the kitchen and the motel reception. The Crossroads motel reception had the distinction of having the smallest bar in hospitality history. Barely large enough to fit barman cum postman Vince Parker behind it, it consisted of about four optics, a solitary beer tap and half a dozen bottles on a top shelf which didn’t change in 20 years. It’s fair to say seating was limited. One bar stool plus a chair/ stool combo next to the reception entrance doorway. Someone sitting in these seats would have tripped up anyone rushing through the front door in a highly agitated fashion. Which characters did regularly.

Bloody hell! They’re one deep at the bar! Get Sandy from the cafeteria

Literally hundreds of actors passed through the Motel reception. Some of them quite well-known and some (but not many) who went on to bigger and better things. But as well as Noele Gordon a few became synonymous with the programme. For example:

  • Roger Tonge (Sandy Richardson): Roger was involved in Am-dram when he wandered into ATV Studios one day and asked if they had any jobs. He was directed upstairs to where they just happened to be auditioning for cast members for a new daily serial about to be going into production called Crossroads. He strolled in, they said, ‘You’ll do’ and behold, Sandy Richardson was born. Sandy was in Crossroads from episode 1 and when his health began fail some years later the writers manufactured a scenario where he was injured in a car crash, partly paralysed and was confined to a wheel chair. He was the first disabled character ever in a daily serial (Chief Ironside was a few years down the line). Eventually his condition worsened and he sadly died in 1981. Bizarrely his death was never acknowledged in the show at the time. When mentioned he was always ‘at the cafeteria’, which became something of a euphemism for a character who had gone to that great motel reception area in the sky. Eventually Jill mentioned him in words that suggested he was no longer with us, but that was nearly a year later.
  • Susan Hanson (Diane Lawton): She first appeared in the excellent 1964 Dave Clark Five vehicle Catch Us If You Can directed by a young John Boorman, joined Crossroads in 1966 and was killed off in 1987. She became famous as village idiot Benny Hawkin‘s guardian after she discovered him working on her Uncle Ed’s farm. Miss Doy-Ann had an interesting private life. Having been married for a short time to rock DJ Tommy Vance in the 60s, she met singer and former wild-man of rock Carl Wayne when he had a small part in Crossroads in 1973. They married in 1974 and stayed together until he died at the criminally young age of 61. Carl Wayne was lead singer of brilliant 60s band The Move. With Roy Wood they had a string of hits including Fire Brigade, I Can Hear The Grass Grow and Tonight. He was also the first singer to be broadcast on Wonderful Radio One in 1967 when Tony Blackburn’s first record was Flowers In The Rain ( See The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs). On leaving The Move he became something of a housewives’ choice appearing on a lunchtime music show with Geraldo’s Big Band singing standards and songs from the musicals. He also sang the memorable Tony Hatch composed theme tune to post-Op Knocks ( see Opportunity Knocks!) talent show New Faces in the 1980s, You’re A Star. Recently Sue made that soap opera crossover and had a role in Coronation Street appearing opposite her ‘partner in crime’ during her 60s Crossroads period Sue Nicholls who played waitress Marilyn Gates.
  • Shughie McPhee (Angus Lennie) joined in 1974. His CV is impressive having appeared in Tunes of Glory, 633 Squadron, The VIPs with Richard Burton and his most well-known role as ‘The Mole‘ in The Great Escape. It’s fair to say that his film career was crashing and burning, a bit like that plane he was in in 633 Squadron when Crossroads came calling but he made that part of Head Chef Shughie McPhee his own.
  • Amy Turtle played by Ann George joined the cast in 1965 and was written out in 1976. In true Crossroads style Amy went to visit relatives in the US and she was never referred to in the show again. She wasn’t even referred to as being ‘in the cafeteria‘ a la Sandy. But was she bitter? Damn right she was. She was photographed by that great champion of the oppressed The Sun newspaper shaking her fists outside the ATV studios. In an interview around the same time she revealed how she’d been shunned by the cast after she left and how hard done by she’d been by the producers and even Noele Gordon herself! Excellent stuff. One would think there was no way back after that, but you’d be wrong. She made a triumphant return in 1987 for a short time. It was Amy Turtle that Victoria Wood based the legendary Mrs Overall of Acorn Antiques on, and, not surprisingly, Julie Walters, who played Mrs Overall so brilliantly, came from the same West Midlands town as Amy, Smethwick. Fancy that!
  • Benny Hawkins played by Paul Henry arguably became the most famous Crossroads character after Meg Richardson. Taken under her wing by Miss Doy-Ann, Benny was employed by the motel as a handyman. His tragic 1978 romance with tempestuous gypsy girl Maureen Flynn who was knocked off her bike and killed on the morning of their wedding (what rotten luck) struck a chord with the viewing public. But wasn’t she on her way to meet Pat, the dodgy gypsy and Benny’s love rival? Hmmm. Poor Benny was inconsolable. He even had a hit single about it. Benny’s Theme was not so much a song as a monologue where he mopes about his lost love and how his life has changed forever. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde writing about the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop, ‘One must have a heart of stone to listen to Benny’s Theme without laughing.’ British soldiers during the Falklands War even referred to Falkland Islanders as ‘Bennies’, such was his influence. In later years it was revealed that Ronnie Barker had suggested Henry to play Lennie Godber in Porridge, the part eventually going to Richard Beckinsale. Bet he was pissed off about missing out on that one.

There are many other weird and wonderful characters that could be discussed here but with literally hundreds passing through King’s Oak it could take a while, but I’m giving one last small nod to the hordes of extras who graced the motel reception area. As everyone knows the Crossroads budget was similar to that of, well, a small motel. It was imperative that extras did not utter a single word for fear of incurring additional expenditure beyond union extras rates. Thus, there were many excruciatingly long and turgid scenes where hotel guests, i.e. extras, would indulge in silent conversation with motel staff who were allowed to speak, and much nodding, gesticulating and smiling ensued. The overacting of extras was also a particularly enjoyable spectacle to watch in the background of scenes where they were squeezed into the tiny Crossroads reception bar, just as Meg and Tish Hope, for example, engaged in a fraught conversation about whether the guest in room 22 might be an international terrorist lying low in King’s Oak, just off the A435 which joins up with the A422, just south of Droitwich.

But if not an international terrorist, they turned up in King’s Oak a bit later, then maybe an international pop star? Hardly likely I hear you say, but, once again, you’d be wrong!

In 1974 Sandy, on one of his rare excursions from the cafeteria, discovered that the reclusive woman staying in one of the motel’s Emperor bedrooms was none other than singing sensation Holly Brown, who due to the media pressure of having a No. 1 hit ‘Born With A Smile On My Face‘, was lying low in the Crossroads Motel, Kings Oak (south of Droitwich). Holly was played by ex-That’s Life performer Stephanie De Sykes whose 70s credentials are impeccable. She performed the new Golden Shot theme ‘Golden Day‘ with the band Rain, she returned to the top 20 with the song ‘We’ll Find Our Day’ which was played during Meg and Hugh Mortimer’s hugely overblown marriage ceremony in 1975 and she co-wrote two Eurovision Song Contest entries, Co-Co’s The Bad Old Days and Prima Donna’s Love Enough For Two in 1980. Neither won.

But the influence of Crossroads was clear when the song the fictional Holly Brown had taken to Number One in the show was actually released. It went to Number Two. Written by Simon May who also wrote the theme to Eastenders (wonder if he gets a royalty every time it’s played?) and Howard’s Way, it’s a formulaic and quite irritating song but certainly hit the spot with Crossroads viewers.

And talking about that bloated, aggrandised, self-conscious wedding between Meg and second husband Hugh Mortimer, who shortly afterwards really was murdered by a group of international terrorists that included Dishy David Hunter’s anarchist son Chris and his sultry French girlfriend Simone, which must have caused a slightly strained atmosphere in Monday morning management meetings, Crossroads really had become more than a little bit up its own backdrop. Not only was this wedding publicised as if it was real, it took place at Birmingham Cathedral, TV Times issued a Crossroads Wedding Special edition, thousands of ‘well-wishers’ turned up for the ceremony and their wedding car was driven by a chauffeur who looked alarmingly like Nolly’s great pal Larry Grayson, who at one point, turned and winked archly to the camera. Just before the ceremony Meg was even interviewed by tabloid journalist Godfrey Winn. Not bad for the manageress of a small motel located slightly south of Droitwich, even if it did have a swimming pool. It wasn’t, however, the first time the fourth wall was unceremoniously smashed to smithereens. On a number of occasions at Christmas Meg would summon the staff to her sanctum for a small sherry and, gathered lovingly around her, they would all look directly into the camera, raise their glasses to the viewing public and wish them a ‘Happy Christmas’. If it had been written by Harold Pinter maybe they could have got away with this, but it really wasn’t. And it was this blurring of fiction and reality that, I believe, was at the centre of Meg/Noele’s demise. It was as if she, Noele Gordon, was the star of the wedding, not Meg Richardson and those thousands of saddoes who lined the Birmingham streets were there to see Nolly. And, of course, they were.

Reading interviews with former Crossroads actors it’s easy to see who ruled the roost in this long-running production. One actor talked about the Green Room where all the regulars had their own chairs and in the centre was Nolly’s throne and, if lucky enough, they’d be allowed to touch the hem of her garment. And this eventually proved too much for the executives at ATV who balked at the negative criticism the show always attracted. A school of thought believes that Noele was strategically sacked in an attempt to let the show wither on the vine. Which is exactly what happened. Eventually.

While at primary school in the 60s we had a very affected old music teacher who delivered her last music lesson to us before retirement. ‘Will you ever come back, Mrs Caldwell?’ giggled an old pal of mine as she made her way to the door. Slowly and without breaking stride, looking straight ahead, she replied in the loviest of manners, ‘Some day….some day…’ And lo she was gone.

And this is how I envisaged Nolly’s departure from Crossroads although in an altogether less benign way. She quickly did the rounds of lunchtime chat shows (Pebble Mill, Harty, Titchmarsh) bemoaning the brutal manner she was unceremoniously dumped after all she’d done for them and she even released a record of such melodramatic magnitude it literally has to be seen and heard to be believed. Was she going quietly? Was she hell!

The double A-side single she released were the songs ‘Goodbye‘ and ‘After All That Time‘ which she was only too happy to perform, with feeling, in front the soup-slurping lunchtime audience. No reference to her perceived savage treatment at the hands of those bastards at ATV then?

But if you want the pure essence of the Matriarch of the Motel, the Queen Bee of Crossroads, the Cleopatra of King’s Oak, and ultimately the Doyenne of Dignity, I urge you to watch the video below.

Nolly accepts her fate with customary grace

It may have become quickly rather obvious that I loved Crossroads but, in my pathetic defence, my critical faculties at that age had, of course, yet to be developed. I remember vividly rushing home from school to get in for 4.30pm to soak up the latest emotionally wrought episode. And just hearing that signature tune still makes me feel quite excited and not a little bit nostalgic. If someone gave a me boxed set of 3000 episodes, I’d gladly spend a month self-isolating in a darkened room watching them. And then another month recovering.

Rather pretentiously, not new to this little blogspace, I’m reminded of the (slightly amended) words of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

My name is Ozymandias, Queen of Queens;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

But it did have a swimming pool.

Cor Blimey Stan, How Did You Do It?: On The Buses

On The Buses was a 70s broadcasting phenomenon. Why?

No sign of buxom clippies here.

On The Buses was first broadcast on 28th February 1969 to something less than a fanfare. With an initial run of only 7 episodes it was popular enough to be re-commisioned for a second series. Within a couple of years it was the most popular sitcom on television, the spin-off film was the most successful British film at the box office in 1971 beating Diamonds Are Forever, Dirty Harry, A Clockwork Orange, The French Connection and Bedknobs And Broomsticks. Two more hugely successful spin-off films and a further six longer series followed. The series format was, implausibly for its very British subject matter, sold to a US network, Fisher Price brought out an On The Buses board game and the series was turned into a heavily bowdlerised strip cartoon which ran for four years in the children’s TV magazine Look-In (La-la-la-la-la Look-In!). Despite David Stubbs of The Guardian describing the show as ‘..a byword for 70s sitcom mediocrity..’ and Leslie Halliwell of Halliwell’s Film Guide calling the films ‘..deplorably witless..’, the series was massively popular throughout the early 70s. With Mrs Brown’s Boys recently winning the Best Sitcom at the BAFTAs, has anything really changed?

It would be series 7 before he eventually found a way out!

As is always the case here, it is important to remember that during the series’ successful run there were only three TV channels, so there was little or maybe no real competition. In fact, the first series of On The Buses in 1969 was most probably up against an episode of the long running western The Virginian on BBC1. Maybe viewers had become a bit bored of the Shilo Ranch every Friday night for nearly five years up till then. And hardly anyone watched BBC2. That particular night in 1969 viewers may have been more interested in The Visual Scene, a look at European architecture since 1945 on BBC2 than the new sitcom on ITV. But unlikely.

Throughout seven series the basic premise of the sitcom never changed, it just became increasingly more desperate. Reg Varney was 51 when he first played the part of Stan Butler and Bob Grant was 36. It’s not being unreasonable to say that neither had male model looks. Stan was overweight and short, Jack was skinny, toothsome and becoming follicaly challenged. However, a veritable battalion of young, attractive female clippies found them irresistibly sexy. And this was how it was in the 60s and 70s. Particularly with the Carry-Ons, young ‘dolly birds’ were only too happy to be draped around men like Sid James, Bernard Bresslaw or Peter Butterworth, or at least the films made out they were. But as viewers, we knew instinctively that this was fiction, but did this make it any more tolerable? It certainly made it more ludicrous.

No wonder Jack’s smiling!

The series had been written by sitcom stalwarts Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe. Wolfe had been the great Beryl Reid’s main writer before meeting Chesney while working on the BBC radio series Educating Archie, a comedy series starring a ventriloquist’s dummy. On the radio. If you think that’s weird, Ronald Chesney began in showbiz teaching the harmonica to troops during WW2 on a BBC radio series that lasted 42 weeks. That is, 42 weeks of harmonica tuition. And you thought European architecture since 1945 was boring?

Their first writing hit was the 1961 sitcom The Rag Trade which starred, amongst others, Reg Varney, who was already 45 at this point. About the everyday trials and tribulations in a clothes manufacturing sweat shop in London it also starred Miriam Karlin, Barbara Windsor, Sheila Hancock and Esma Cannon. A ratings success it attracted 11 million viewers at its height. They followed this with the formulaic Meet The Wife which ran for five series from 1964-66. Starring the legendary Thora Hird and Freddie Frinton it was another working-class sitcom which reflected the changing attitudes of broadcasting and film making at this time. Ronald Wolfe said:

‘Writers who come from orthodox middle-class backgrounds can’t write The Rag Trade- type shows. They just don’t know what makes the man in the street laugh.’

With regards to On The Buses maybe he had a point. With the notable exception of Galton and Simpson, many British sitcoms were solidly middle-class. After 1960 the most memorable sitcoms, however, were the likes of Steptoe and Son, Hancock, Till Death Us Do Part and The Likely Lads, factor in soap operas like Coronation Street and The Newcomers and clearly, it was possible, at last, to get into TV without having to have elocution lessons or graduate from private school. Although clearly lacking the social and political heft of many of these programmes, On The Buses had unquestionable working class credentials. It’s also fair to say Wolfe and Chesney, who have been roundly criticised for their representations of women in On The Buses, often rightly so, had already created strong roles for women in their previous work. No one could ever accuse either Beryl Read, Miriam Karlin or Thora Hird as being shrinking violets. But the two Ronalds were working during a very different time with regards to sexual politics and, let’s face it, writers will do anything for laughs, if they can get away with it and in the early 70s they could.

But what the two Ronalds were doing was no different to what pretty much all comedy writers were doing in the 60s and 70s. Writing for men by men. And the way we watch these programmes now is very different to how we watched them then. We watch them now with a large element of irony. We laugh because, at times, we can’t quite believe what we’re seeing or hearing. If you lived through those time, like I did, you completely believe what you’re seeing. It’s how things were. We know better now but I don’t agree with the people who think these things should be proscribed. We’re not stupid, we understand that things are different today so no one has the right to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be able to watch on terrestrial telly.

Reg Varney‘s career began immediately after the war when he, like so many other, mainly male, performers began at The Windmill Theatre (see Mad As A Ha’penny Watch’). He played piano there and this eventually led to him becoming, curiously, Benny Hill‘s straight man in a revue improbably titled ‘Gaytime.’

Benny Hill was reputed to have been offered the job over Peter Sellars. Some mention this with incredulity but, whatever they say, Benny Hill was a comic genius. Some of his stuff doesn’t go down well these days, like so much other 60s and 70s comedy, not least On The Buses, but there is no getting away from the fact that he was a brilliant comedy performer and an extremely clever and funny writer. There is nothing that Benny Hill did in some of his comedy that The Two Ronnies or even On The Buses didn’t, and they certainly didn’t do it as well as Benny Hill, but the latter are both broadcast regularly but Benny Hill shows never see the light of day. Why is Benny Hill criminally ignored? Are today’s viewers unable to cope with what they might see or be able to put it into a modern context? There is so much of his genius we are missing and it’s incredibly unfair. A few years ago a TV channel, Channel 4 maybe, ran a one-off documentary where they showed young people clips from Benny Hill shows and asked if he was still funny. They voted resoundingly that he was.

Benny Hill: Comic genius

Before On The Buses, Reg Varney had established himself as a reliable comic actor in the The Rag Trade and then Beggar My Neighbour which ran for three series between 1966 and 68. With a plethora of 60s comedy talent including Peter Jones (also from The Rag Trade), June Whitfield and Pat Coombes, the premise of related couples living next door to one another and one couple being well-off and the other not, it was a comedy conceit made in TV heaven, though rarely remembered today.

Reg and Pat Coombes in the almost forgotten Beggar My Neighbour

It was around this time in 1967 that Reg Varney became the first man to use an automated cash machine in the UK. Clearly his popularity with the public was of a suitably exalted status that the good people at Barclay’s Bank felt he was the right man to publicise this technological marvel. The fact that the first Barclay’s Bank to have an ATM was in Enfield, North London and Reg just happened to live locally also helped. But this unlikely story shows how well known he’d become. And this was before On The Buses.

It didn’t swallow my card!

For the next four years he and Stan Butler became household names and it was the very success of On The Buses that really typecast Reg in the years after. He left OTB in 1973 and despite being given two series of his own largely forgotten sketch show in 1973-74 and starring in an On The Buses-type sitcom but set in Billingsgate Market, Down The ‘Gate, which only lasted 12 episodes, Varney rarely worked in TV again. Sadly, whatever he did he was always Stan Butler.

I smell fish five days old

Reg did make a curiosity of a film in 1973 , however. Straight after leaving OTB he was offered The Best Pair Of Legs In The Business about a holiday camp entertainer who squanders his talent and family relationships due to his obsession with his job. With a pretty decent cast including Diana Coupland of Bless This House fame and Johnny ‘Mike Baldwin’ Briggs, it’s an odd combination of comedy and pathos and it can’t quite work out what it wants to be. Reg Varney is pretty good in it but he’s fighting a losing battle. Eventually the film was given a cinema release as second on the bill to, ironically, The Best of Benny Hill and sunk without trace. And that for Reg was pretty much it, which was a shame as he was a comedy actor of real ability and professionalism. His style seemed effortless and compared to some of the less talented actors in OTB, and there were plenty, he shone out like a number 11 bus on a cold winter’s night at the cemetery gates. And it was Reg himself who did more than anyone to make OTB the success it was. In less capable hands it would have never have left the depot.

Compared to Reg the other performers could not hold a candle to him. That said, both Bob Grant and Stephen Lewis came to the show with interesting CVs.

Stephen Lewis began at Joan Littlewood’s Theatre Workshop at Stratford and actually wrote a West End musical, Sparrers Can’t Sing which was also made into a film starring Barbara Windsor. A life long socialist he often campaigned with Tony Benn and wrote some of the later OTB episodes with Bob Grant. He was given his own spin-off by Wolfe and Chesney ‘Don’t Drink The Water‘ which he starred in with the ubiquitous Pat Coombes as Blakey and his sister who had retired to Spain with hilarious results! You can imagine. Lots of funny foreigner, greasy food and Spanish tummy gags ensued. He reprised Blakey a number of times in various shows and finished up in that retirement home for old actors, The Last Of The Summer Wine.

Don’t Drink The Water: Derek Griffiths once again typecast as ‘the funny foreigner’

Bob Grant also began with Joan Littlewood’s theatre company and appeared in Lewis’s stage play of Sparrers Can’t Sing. He also played, oddly, 60s Labour Minister and old soak George Brown in the political satire written by Private Eye editor Richard Ingrams and John Wells, Mrs Wilson’s Diary before OTB. As well as writing later OTB episodes with Lewis, worked pretty much dried up for him after the series ended. He attempted a comeback with a self-written sitcom called Milk-O where he played a milkman fighting off the amorous advances of randy housewives (well they would, wouldn’t they?) but the pilot wasn’t taken up by any TV company. In 1975 a film was released by Special Branch‘s one-dimensional Derren Nesbitt which he scripted, produced and directed entitled The Amorous Milkman about a milkman fighting off the advances of randy housewives. Sound familiar? In fact, one poster for the film showed a cat licking its lips after drinking some milk above the tagline ‘If your pussy could talk.’ Saul Bass it wasn’t. 70s it certainly was.

In the days when it was believed milk was good for you.

This was probably the last straw for Bob and his life descended into depression and after two suicide attempts a third attempt was, tragically, successful in 2003. During his OTB years of fame his marriage at a London Registry Office attracted such a huge crowd he and the guests had to abandon their hired cars and walk to the reception. Such are the vicissitudes of fame.

The first series of OTB set the parameters for the characters such as Arthur’s cynical and sarcastic nature and his verbal abuse of Olive (‘You great guts!‘), his ‘operation’ which is never revealed but it’s suggested affects his sexual performance (obviously). Olive does not have a particularly big role in the first two series other than as the butt of jokes. Her unattractiveness, terrible cooking and desire to have ‘an early night’, much to Jack’s disgust, are regular routines. Blakey is established as the petty hate figure that Stan and Jack run rings around and ‘clippies’ are introduced only occasionally. Stan’s problems are mostly the result of his doting mum and troublesome family. In fact the first two series are fairly low-key and often have an improvised feel to them. The comedy is slow burning to say the least and often it doesn’t emerge at all. One gets the impression the writers don’t really know where it’s going. It’s quite amazing that it was commissioned for a third series.

By series three however, they get into their stride. The catchphrases appear, ‘I ‘ate you butler,’ ‘Get that bleeding’ bus aht!‘, buxom clippies abound and Blakey gets annoyed. And that was, pretty much, the template for the next four series. Desperation still set in regularly though and in series three, for example, an episode about the boys getting fancy new uniforms really scraped the barrel, and a scene depicting Jack and Stan just mincing around the staff canteen in them went on for about 3 minutes! And this type of scene became increasingly more common as ideas became increasingly more limited.

The spin-off films were just extended versions of the TV series. The first film, On The Buses, which made 28 times its original budget world-wide, is a very 70s story of women threatening the harmony of the mens’ jobs and their guaranteed overtime by being ‘allowed’ to become bus drivers. High jinx ensue and a series of ploys to get the women bus drivers sacked are put into operation including spiders in the cabs and diuretics in the tea. The women drivers, of course, are all battle-axes. The clippies, of course, are the young attractive girls desperate for ageing, sweaty, overweight, leering male attention. To be fair, the denouement of the film did give the battle-axes the upper hand (spoiler alert, if you’re bothered) as they all became inspectors.

The most memorable aspect of the first film was the opening theme song, ‘Its A Great Life On The Buses‘ by Quinceharmon. Arguably the lyrics were funnier, in a very 70s way, to the script. For example:

It’s so romantic on the buses,

you’ll find it thrilling when you ride,

and you can get it on the buses,

upstairs or down inside.

Hardly Leonard Cohen but you get the idea.

Mutiny On The Buses and Holiday On The Buses wrung out the threadbare comedy sponge to its limit but, as is often the case, too little too late. Reg saw the writing on the lavatory wall and jumped the bus long before the cemetery gates in the middle of series 7. Michael Robbins (Arthur) had already done so at the start of series 7, supposedly having divorced Olive. He went on to have a much more successful subsequent career than any of the other OTB performers, including an unlikely part as a female impersonator in The Pink Panther Strikes Again in 1976.

No caption required

It’s not going too far to call On The Buses a 70s phenomenon. Quite unbelievable now given its paucity of humour and one-dimensional characters. It should also be remembered that at the same time we had comedy on telly such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Steptoe and Son, The Likely Lads, Porridge and The Dustbinmen. So it’s not as if OTB had no competition. But maybe Ronald Chesney was right about the working class humour, maybe many people didn’t want challenging comedy and maybe there was little competition at 7.00 pm on a Friday evening and only three channels available. But it was easy humour for less enlightened times and everyone of a certain age remembers Stan and Blakey. And I have to admit, I loved it at the time but I was only 9.

That said, give me On The Buses, or for that matter a look at European architecture since 1945, to the execrable Mrs Brown’s Boys any day.

Now get that bleeding’ bus aht!

When Football Grounds Were Fun

Match day at Brechin’s Glebe Park

The homogeneous nature of modern stadia is just another reason why football has become so mundane

This blog may be about 60s and 70s popular culture but it is defiantly not one of those places where I moan about how crap everything is today compared to the past. That’s not to say that the 60s and 70s weren’t a golden age for comedy, music, TV and a few other things, because they were. But over the last 50 years there has been some amazing examples of all these categories as well as some absolute rubbish. It’s just the nature of things.

That said. There is one aspect of our modern cultural life that has deteriorated significantly since the 60s and 70s and although elements of it are better, something has never been replaced. Right, get to the point. I’m talking about football grounds here. You may already have read about Shoot and Goal magazines which will have given you the gist of what I’m getting at.

In short, football clubs have lost much of their distinctiveness, quirkiness, exclusivity and, dare I say, beauty through the way their grounds have changed. I completely understand that it’s all been done in the name of safety, comfort, increase in capacity and, inevitably, increased revenues. I completely understand that but I just miss the little things, eccentricities, peculiarities and oddities as well as wonders you saw and appreciated at grounds when you attended away games. Sadly that has gone forever.

In 1983 Simon Inglis published the football stadium bible, The Football Grounds of England and Wales, updating it a few years later and adding Scottish grounds. For football ground aficionados like myself this was the Book of Revelations, the font of all football ground knowledge that you would consult before visiting a new venue. His enthusiasm and love of those quirky little features that made a ground distinctive, that added an extra layer of excitement and intrigue to any away game was infectious. These little features were the history of the club, they’d been there for maybe a hundred years or more and often became synonymous with the club’s identity. He also introduced me to the Frank Lloyd Wright of football architecture, Archibald Leitch. Born in Glasgow in 1865, Leitch designed some of the greatest and most iconic stands in British football history. Some, though criminally few, are still standing, though most of these have been redeveloped but keeping their original decoration and structure, such as Ibrox, Aston Villa, Kilmarnock, Dundee and Everton’s Goodison Park.

Simon Inglis’s Book of Revelations

It’s true that few grounds still have those fascinating little distinguishing features due to redevelopment. There was a time when a game would be taking place on TV and you could tell the home team purely by the ground’s architecture. It’s still possible in some cases but not many. Uniform stands on every side of the pitch, of breeze block and corrugated steel, goal nets that all look the same (much more on this soon) and pitches that no longer even cut up, all make for a homogeneous viewing experience. Yes, it’s more comfortable, certainly safer, a higher quality of football and invariably more expensive but it’s a very different world, better in some ways, worse in many others.

I first started attending games in 1970 and still attend them today. Of the 133 clubs in the Scottish and English top leagues (134 if you still count Bury FC who were expelled from their league earlier this season) I have visited over half (76 to be precise. 79 if you count 3 teams in the English National league who have dropped out the top flights, Notts County, Chesterfield and Stockport) so I feel I have some knowledge of the subject. Out of those 79, 29 have moved to different grounds from the ones I originally attended. Of the remaining 50 most have changed their ground significantly in some way or other, usually as a result of the Taylor Report which required all top division grounds to become all-seaters. The outcome of this is that most grounds have lost their distinctive character, a few still retain a bit of their retro- charm but it’s rare. To read Simon Inglis book now is to find out what the football grounds of Scotland, England and Wales used be like.

The first ground I ever attended was Tynecastle, home of my team Hearts (or to give them their Sunday name Heart Of Midlothian). The game was against St. Johnstone on August 29th 1970 and we lost 3-1. I didn’t even see our goal, a late penalty as we’d already left in (my uncle’s ) disgust. I remember vividly walking into the stadium and being completely blown away by the size of the pitch and its blinding greenness and how incredibly close we were to the action. Like many grounds of the time we had a fairly average Archibald Leitch stand (recently demolished) and banks of terracing on three sides. The open-to-the-elements standing Gorgie Road End was the largest and most interesting as it had a huge scoreboard at the back of the terracing where half time scores at other grounds would be displayed manually. The other games taking place were listed alphabetically in the programme, so you really had buy a programme if you wanted to keep abreast of half time scores. No electronic scoreboards then. In fact, we don’t even have one now. No need for such new-fangled gadgetry when a tranny in the ear will suffice.

Until redevelopment in the 1980s the tenements behind this end had one of the best views of the game from their kitchen window than probably at any other ground in the UK. They must have been sick when the first new stand was built, apart from the amount it took off the value of their properties.

Hearts’ ground now is trim, clean but still one of the most atmospheric grounds in the country. The designers, at least, maintained the close proximity of the stands to the pitch, but like so many other grounds, lacks the feeling of distinctiveness it once had. At one time you could walk along the main thoroughfare, Gorgie Road, and not even realise a football ground was there, unless you looked up a side street and saw the narrow main entrance, and, despite the redevelopment, that’s still the case.

Most top flight Scottish grounds are similar in their nondescriptness. Rangers have kept their magnificent Archibald Leitch main stand but have built on to it and kept their main red brick facade. Kilmarnock are the only Premier club whose ground bears some resemblance to that of the 60s and 70s with their old stand and the floodlights perched on top of the roof, although the three other sides are relatively recent.

Killie’s old stand

St Johnstone, Hamilton and Livingstone play in utilitarian stadiums with not a single feature to recommend them, built quickly and cheaply. The latter two teams even play on synthetic pitches, it’s like watching football in an oversize subbuteo ground.

In the lower divisions, however, Dundee United’s Tannadice is still quite interesting. In the 60s and 70s before redevelopment it had the steepest terracing in the country. Dizzyingly so. Anyone losing their footing would plunge about 30 feet unless their tumble was arrested by a cast iron crash barrier. Those were the days! The ground also had high walls at each corner of the pitch which displayed an advert for the good people at Skol lager. When televised a small part of this historic terracing can still be seen at the far left hand corner where the stand meets the the terracing behind the goal. They still have the same strange little stand that stretches from half way along one side of the pitch and snakes around the corner to about a third of the way behind the goal. Not that long ago, behind this same goal were allotments and a particularly poor attempt at goal will have destroyed some poor guy’s cold frame, on probably more than one occasion. It still shares the same street with its neighbour, Dundee FC‘s Dens Park which still has an original Archibald Leitch stand.

Scottish League 1 Raith Rovers’ Stark’s Park still has a lovely old fashioned Archibald Leitch stand which, like the Tannadice stand stretches part of way along one side of the pitch and round the corner behind one of the goals. It’s now named after Raith’s most famous fan, crime writer Val McDermid, and still has benches which extend from one end to the other. On the other side of the ground trains still pass regularly and get a fleeting view of the action.

The Val McDermid Stand with its lovely wee gable.

At one time Airdrie’s Broomfield was a fantastic old fashioned stadium. Famous for its pavilion in the corner, it was reminiscent of Fulham’s Craven Cottage and Bradford Park Avenue‘s old, now abandoned, ground with its ‘Doll’s House’. Broomfield was a cauldron with a huge standing area curling two-thirds of the way around the ground. Airdrie now play at the grandly named Excelsior Stadium just outside Glasgow, but that’s all that is grand about this mundane breeze block construction.

Many lower league teams in Scotland still retain many of their old features, and, to be fair, there are some grounds I have not been to including Forfar, Albion Rovers, Stranraer and Peterhead. Of the grounds I know of Ayr United’s Somerset Park is one of the few that still looks the same as when I last visited in 1974. Although, inevitably, the forces of change are looming and plans have been drawn up to transform the ground into a stadium for ‘the future’.

A ground that will always be close to my heart(s) is Arbroath FC’s Gayfield. I attended my first Hearts away match there in 3rd November 1973. Set right on the sea front, if a beleaguered centre half wellied the ball out of the ground, it could conceivably end up in Denmark. With the exception of some covering at the once open end of the ground, Gayfield has stayed pretty much the same as when I visited for the first time all these years ago. There is one other aspect of Gayfield which I feel is worth mentioning, and will return to the fascinating subject of goal stanchions very soon.

Fir Park, the home of Motherwell FC is another ground that has little architecturally to recommend it these days but not too long ago it featured the biggest pun, probably, in world football. Across the top of what was once a covered standing area was the advice in huge block capitals, ‘Keep Cigarettes Away From The Match.’ Sadly this advice has disappeared and it now advertises some mundane loan company or something, but for many years this greeted fans weekly.

‘Well’s world record breaking pun.

To find any quirkiness in grounds today any fan of football architecture has to forget about the top flights in both Scotland and England. In the English Premiership the top teams have spent hundreds of millions on upgrading their grounds to a level of uniform blandness, Spurs actually spent £1 billion on their recently opened new stadium. With the exception of Everton’s Goodison Park (and there are plans for them to leave soon) White Hart Lane was the last English top flight ground to retain any of its original features. Up until the 1980s it still had a white picket fence around the perimeter and for many years advertising around the pitch wasn’t allowed. Changed days. And taking centre stage was its magnificent Archibald Leitch East stand with its famous gable and its cockerel standing majestically above it. Spurs have one of the most state-of-the- art stadiums in the world now, but the character has gone.

Everton’s Goodison Park was another ground with wonderful Archibald Leitch designed stands. Its triple-tiered stand was the first of its kind. It’s still a wonderfully atmospheric stadium, something that doesn’t come across on TV. When I visited in 1998 I was pleasantly surprised by how compact it felt and how close the fans were to the pitch. Always a good sign. This three tired stand, the first of its kind, adds a real majestic quality. It’ll be a very sad day if they do leave and, like West Ham whose fans have never taken to their new stadium and the running track that separates them from the action, Everton will lose something special that Goodison provided. When footage of Goodison in the 60s and 70s is shown on TV it is noticeable that large semi-circles were created behind each goal which seemed rather odd. These were installed for safety reasons as Goodison was used as a World Cup venue in 1966. For many years I thought it added to the ground’s charm, as did the church of St Luke The Evangelist which jutted into the Gwladys Street terracing behind the goal and has now been closed off and can hardly be seen. Plans to move the club to a new stadium 2.5 miles away and have Goodison redeveloped as a residential area will rob the English Premiership of one of the last grounds of a bygone era. One final interesting fact about Goodison (well I think it’s interesting). Everton were the first club in England to install dugouts after playing a friendly at Pittodrie ( a stadium that has never had much to recommend it architecturally) against Aberdeen in 1931, who were the first team in the UK to have dugouts in their ground.

Everton’s neighbours across Stanley Park, Liverpool inhabit its famous Anfield stadium which has lacked any sort of architectural distinction since the it demolished its lovely gabled old main stand in the early 1970s. However, the sight and atmosphere of the Kop on match days was always the most distinctive part of Anfield with the banks of fans on the Kop swaying to the ebb and flow of the game like a field of poppies in the breeze.

The only other English Premiership ground of note is Aston Villa’s Villa Park. Although three sides of it are fairly ordinary, the Trinity Road stand along one side of the ground is still a sight to behold with its claret and red curved balcony wall and gable on the roof displaying the Aston Villa crest. Dating back to 1922 it’s amazing this stand has survived the mass development of 90s. Maybe if Villa had been more successful during this time it may not have.

A few clubs whose old grounds are sorely missed are Newcastle’s St James’s Park, Southampton’s The Dell and Arsenal’s Highbury. Each of those stadiums were unique for a number of reasons.

Although still on the same site St James’s Park bears no resemblance to the seething hotbed of a stadium of the 60s and 70s. Any TV footage from this time gives the impression of the fans nearly encroaching on to the pitch, and occasionally they did! The distance between the fans and the pitch was so narrow, the players could almost touch the spectators. The intimidating nature of this ground for visiting teams must have been almost palpable. As a student in Newcastle during the late 70s I attended many Magpies‘ home games but even then the stadium was being redeveloped and was hardly the bear pit it was a few years previously. The famous covered Leazes End had been ripped down and wasn’t replaced for many years, a bare wall taking its place. A flat pack stand was erected on one side although the original main stand remained until redevelopment in the 90s. But the guts had been ripped out the stadium and the team’s fortunes reflected the lack of atmosphere as they remained in the Second Division until ‘The Keegan Revolution.’

Southampton’s Dell was an amazing ground that defined the glorious differences in football grounds in the first half of the 1900s . A hotch potch of stands and bits of chaotic and disorganised terracing all within touching distance of the pitch was similar to St James’s, though smaller. With the goal nets right up against the wall of the terracing behind the goal and fans spilling over on to the narrow track, it was an exciting to place to go or even watch on telly. In 1978 the ground’s capacity was reduced to 25,000 which was probably the beginning of the end for this fantastic, atmospheric, quirky little ground. No doubt a Tesco stands in its place now.

Wolves’ Molineux was a place of beauty. Famous for its European matches played under the floodlights in the 50s, their stands were wonderful constructions. Using curves where most stands were clean straight lines, it was probably one of the most distinctive grounds in Europe. In the 1970s the club built a huge expensive new stand which almost bankrupted them and this caused the ground to fall into dilapidation. I attended a game there in 1996 and almost two-thirds of the ground was closed off with these tremendously evocative old stands rotting criminally. It was many years before the club recovered and those amazing stands stood derelict before being demolished. Wolves now have a state-of-the-art squeaky clean stadium but it’s not a patch on their glory days.

I visited Millwall FC’s The Den in their last year playing there in 1993 before moving half a mile up the road to the New Den. Talk about from the sublime to the monotonous. The Den was a classic old fashioned ground. Little stands on both sides, a covered standing area, an open standing end behind one of the goals and the players even walked on to the pitch from behind one of the goals. It was atmospheric, could be intimidating but had some great pubs two minutes walk away. A year later I visited the New Den which was one of the dullest, unatmospheric, clinical grounds I had even been to (up till then at least). I know that all clubs had to change in some way, be it for safety or comfort, but this just seemed like madness. The powers that be in the boardroom had ripped out the guts of the club in one fell swoop. The Millwall situation was the writing on the wall for many clubs, leaving their heritage, history and character behind for the sake of…what? Millwall now have a larger stadium, for me completely lacking in atmosphere or charm and where has it got them? And this is true of many, many other clubs.

Arsenal’s Highbury was an Art Deco masterpiece situate in the middle of north London. Begun in 1931 the original Archibald Leitch stand was replaced by two almost identical stands at the east and west sides of the ground. Rather than designers Highbury was created by 1930s architects and little changed between the opening of the new stands until Arsenal left Highbury in 2006. Every wall, every, corner, nook and cranny featured some sort of Art Deco design, it’s marble halls, busts and stairways made the stadium more like a an Art Deco museum rather than a football ground. It’s tight pitch, the smallest in London, and with the fans close to the touchline, it provided an atmosphere second to none. Highbury didn’t have a dug-out. That would be too common. It had shelters, which always looked very cramped on telly and they looked more like greenhouses. But it was only the home shelter that had heating, the away shelter didn’t. Highbury even inspired a curious 1939 detective film called The Arsenal Stadium Mystery starring Leslie Banks. Filmed on location throughout Highbury, and featuring some Arsenal players of the time including manager George Allison, it tells the story of a player dropping down dead on the pitch in a match against Arsenal and the subsequent quest to find the killer after it emerges he was poisoned. Although, by all accounts, the Emirates Stadium is impressive, it could never have the style that Highbury had.

Probably the greatest football stadium ever built.

Football has gone the way of football grounds. It’s better technically, there are fewer mistakes, it’s cleaner though probably more cynical, it’s more distant, players are more skilful, and clubs are run more efficiently and clinically. Grounds are more comfortable, you can get a nice risotto or pasta dish at the kiosk, programmes are £8 and, if you really want it, you can pay for hospitality, sit in the warmth, have a three-course meal with wine and rub shoulders with captains of industry, all for a few thousand quid. That’s all fine and good, if you like that kind of thing, but I miss the roughing it, the quirky features of old fashioned grounds, the cock-ups in defence and the off-the-ball chinnings (no more of them thanks to VAR).

But if anyone wants to see grounds that still retain some unique, idiosyncratic features, it’s necessary to visit some of the lower league clubs in Scotland and England, although these are disappearing quickly. For example, Brechin City’s Glebe Park is famous for its hedge which runs along one side of the ground or the nets at Grimsby‘s Blundell Park which were donated by local fishermen. Over the next couple of years I’m planning to visit as many of the grounds I still haven’t been to and re-visit some of the ones that still retain a bit of charm. These venues are disappearing fast and will not be there for much longer. The inevitable forces of change are hovering over every old football ground like a zeppelin over Wembley.

So don’t hang about. We’re running out of time.

Warhol: From Soup to Nuts? How Wrong They Were..

How the establishment tried to censor Andy Warhol without knowing anything about him.

As a hugely inquisitive child during the sixties and seventies, I was more aware of what was going on in society than anyone probably realised. I was no different to millions of other children who are instinctively tuned in to the zeitgeist. How could they not be? We read newspapers, watched telly, viewed lots of films, and most importantly, listened to what adults were talking about. It was all there in front of us. Children are just sponges for culture and I for one resented a lot of the shit that was thrown at me in terms of ‘children’s’ television at the time. I wanted challenging TV, innovative TV, groundbreaking films, the bottom line being I wanted to know what was going on in the adult world. Hence the fact my nostalgia for 60s and 70s TV was for The Prisoner, The Avengers, Monty Python and Marty Feldman rather than Crackerjack, Play School, Blue Peter and any other infantile crap middle-aged, middle-class adults perceived I was going to like. I wasn’t prepared to accept thin gruel.

To be fair to my mum and dad they weren’t the type of parents who felt it was their duty to protect me from the excesses of the grown-up world. I was allowed to watch many classics of the 60s and 70s such as Steptoe and Son, Wednesday Plays and Budgie. I didn’t think so at the time but they were quite liberal. And in 1973 I became very aware that there was a real stooshie brewing in the media about a documentary film that had been made that ‘they’ were trying to ban.

Nothing alerted my curiosity, or anyone else’s for that matter, than when a TV programme was branded ‘shocking’, ‘revolting’ or, even better, ‘offensive.’ And such was the case with British photographer David Bailey’s documentary on Andy Warhol.

Bailey and Warhol.

I had heard talk of this beast, Andy Warhol. Certain words and expressions surrounded the name like moons around a weird planet. New York, nuts, freak, sleazy, sex films, strange art, scary, threatening society, drugs, controversial. What was not to like? It would be many years before I became completely obsessed with Warhol and his world, but, at this point, I was just desperate to see this film.

The tabloids, of course, could not believe their luck, a heaven-sent excuse to go into moralistic overdrive about a film they hadn’t seen. ‘Judges Halt Sex Film,’ ‘Judges Ban TV Shocker‘ were just two headlines from newspapers that backed Ross McWhirter and Mary Whitehouse’s moral crusade for ‘decency’. Obviously they hadn’t seen the film either. McWhirter and Whitehouse presumably also hadn’t seen the naked teenage page three models in the tabloids or maybe they thought that was just good clean fun. Either way it took a couple of months before those self-styled arbiters of good taste and decency had their banning application thrown out by the courts. And on 27th March 1973 the film was broadcast.

I had tracked the course of this film through the courts during January and February of 1973 and as the broadcast approached I was determined I was going to see it. I distinctly remember the evening of 27 March 1973. It just so happened that same evening The Godfather won Best Film at the Oscars and Cabaret won 8 other Oscars, Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize was at number 1 in the singles charts, while Alice Cooper‘s Billion Dollar Babies was top of the album charts. So there certainly was a movement away from the mainstream at this particular time.

My dad worked nights at that time and I remember my mum going to bed about 10. She asked me what I was doing and I said, ‘I want to watch that programme on Andy Warhol.’ That was fine with her and she went away leaving me to watch the most eagerly anticipated TV experience of my life on my own. It really didn’t disappoint. It was quirky, it was strange, it had some truly odd people in it as expected and it portrayed an artist who was shy, sometimes monosyllabic, playfully provocative and unique. Was it the ‘shocker’ trumpeted by the tabloids? Of course not. One scene featuring a member of the Warhol entourage, Brigid Polk, showed her on the phone to Andy while she made a series of ‘tit paintings’. This involved her rubbing bits of painted card on her breasts to create images on the card, a bit like brass rubbings, which would probably have pleased Mrs Whitehouse much more. At the start of the sequence we see Brigid throw scraps of coloured paper down the toilet, flush it, then take polaroids of the paper being tossed around by the water. The sight of a toilet probably upset Ross McWhirter more than anything. Or it would have if he’d seen the film, which he hadn’t. It was only 12 years, after all, since Hitchcock was the first film director to show a flushing toilet in cinematic history when he featured it in his 1960’s classic Psycho.

A clip from a Warhol film with two actors discussing having sex on a motorbike travelling at 60 miles per hour definitely upset the moral vanguard. Not because of the language used, ‘fuck’ was still extremely rare on TV, but it was more the fact it would have been a danger to other traffic that worried McWhirter.

So the film came and went. I loved it. It was a serious documentary on a serious artist but it was also funny, we were introduced to a clique of odd people we had never seen, even imagined, before and it gave an insight into a wonderfully seedy world we’d only heard whispers of. Years later my interest in Warhol would be ignited again and I would find out that Warhol’s best and most influential years had been behind him when this film was made and he was heading towards his ‘celebrity’ period, a bit like when a band moved from a cult following to being stadium fillers. They were never quite the same.

To see how this occurred we have to go back to the early 60s. Warhol had arrived in New York in the 50s and worked as a graphic artist and designer, most notably for Glamour magazine . Eventually he gave up illustration and began to concentrate on his own art and after installing himself in a few workshops around NY he moved into the workspace that established him as New York’s prime artistic mover, the Silver Factory at 231 East 47th Street.

The Silver Factory became Pop Art Central from January 1964 until his lease ran out in late 1967. Any artist worth his or her salt, musical, literary, cinematic, photographic, visual, even political passed through the Silver Factory at some point. Warhol also assembled an entourage of New York’s waifs, strays and oddities who hung around the Factory waiting for something to happen. Despite the strangeness of many of the Factory’s denizens, the copious amounts of drugs around and unpredictability of events, anyone well known visiting NY would head for this otherwise mundane corner of the metropolis. Liza Minelli, The Beatles, The Stones, Tennessee Williams, Cecil Beaton, William Burroughs, Salvador Dali, Allen Ginsberg and Truman Capote, amongst many others, regularly dropped in despite its reputation as a den of sleaze, iniquity and degradation. In fact, that probably encouraged many to visit.

It was here he established himself as one the leading practitioners of pop art. In a frenzied few years of activity he created larges screen prints of Hollywood idols, of Campbell’s soup cans, models of outsize Brillo boxes, even of his floating sculptures, silver flower-shaped balloons filled with air which you see all over now but Warhol invented them.

Warhol also began creating his ‘underground’ films at this time. Starting with ‘Sleep‘ and moving on to ‘Empire‘ where he filmed the Empire State Building for 8 hours and 5 mins ‘to see time go by.’ His ‘screen tests’ of people visiting the Factory, where they had to sit motionless and look at a camera Warhol was pointing became hugely influential with avant-garde and later mainstream cinema. Of the 472 ‘Screen Tests’ which still exist, many are of well known people of the time as well people from the New York downtown scene. I once saw an interview where a reporter tried to get Warhol to explain why his films were called ‘underground’. He clearly hoped Warhol would talk about them being non-mainstream, anti-establishment, sexually graphic, unconventional or something similarly controversial. Warhol just said laconically, ‘Well, uhhh, we make them in cellars and basements. That’s, uhh, probably why.’ He was a master of obfuscation.

After a hard day’s screen printing Warhol and his entourage of the day would head down to a few blocks to his favourite restaurant, Max’s Kansas City near Union Square. After taking over the back room, Warhol would offer paintings to the owner for the feeding of his guests. On one notable evening Bobby Kennedy turned up at Max’s to have a chinwag with Andy but only stayed a short time as one of his security men spotted the unmistakable aroma of marijuana and quickly whisked him away. After ‘discovering’ The Velvet Underground (for me the most influential band of all time) at Cafe Bizarre in the Village Warhol had them play regularly at Max’s and soon it was the hottest eatery in New York with queues forming similar to those at Studio 54 (a favourite venue of Andy’s) some years later. In 1974 Max’s Kansas City closed temporarily and re-opened as a punk and New Wave music venue featuring legendary bands such as New York Dolls, Devo and Blondie. For those who read NME and Sounds in the 70s Max’s Kansas City was a familiar venue often mentioned along with CBGB’s. Max’s closed for good in 1981 and is now an excellent deli, though a far cry from its 60s and 70s greatness. I know, I’ve been there.

In January 1968 Warhol moved his operation into the 4th floor of the Decker Building on 33 Union Square West, shortly before 231 E. 47th Street was demolished to make way for a new high rise. A much more upmarket building than the dilapidated, dingy loft of the Silver Factory, it coincided with Warhol becoming more business-orientated and having a number people work on his projects rather than just himself and his assistant Gerard Malanga.

The White Factory where Warhol was shot in 1968

On June 3 1968 Andy Warhol was shot in this building by an occasional visitor to the Factory, Valerie Solanas, who was incensed that a script she had written, Up Your Ass, which she had asked Andy to read had been misplaced. Warhol barely survived and when Bailey filmed his Warhol documentary a few years after the shooting, it was a very different Warhol to the free and easy figure of the 60s. In the years following the Bailey film Warhol would transform himself into his next artwork, that of establishment celebrity rubbing shoulders with Hollywood and political royalty. One wag observed, ‘Andy Warhol would attend the opening of a drawer.’ But I feel this was always the long-term project. To show how his 60s anti-establishmentarianism could be transformed into ultimate celebrity acceptance.

Someone once asked me, knowing my interest in Warhol, why he was so popular as they didn’t think there was much to his work. It made me realise that Andy Warhol was the artwork. Everything about him and the things surrounding him were part of a huge artefact and that, for me, made him and New York the fulcrum of the modern art movement throughout the 60s. Without Warhol we would not have had the grunge, garage and punk, even classical, influences of The Velvet Underground, his films influenced many, many directors to experiment with form, mise-en-scene, sound and narrative, his pop art still influences artists today and his pronouncements which seemed so weird at the time, turned out to be so prescient. Hasn’t everyone become world-famous for 15 mins in our multi-media platform, social media obsessed times? Isn’t art about what you can get away with?

He even designed the Velvet Underground album cover and Sticky Fingers album cover for the Stones and invented the word ‘superstar.’

Bailey’s documentary is still a fascinating study of an enigmatic and still influential totem of pop art, music and cinema as well as being a wonderfully symbolic anti-hero for the 60s. The Bailey film also was a turning point in the public attitude towards censorship and people like Whitehouse and McWhirter knew they were never going to get away with this form cultural fascism again.

Inadvertently, Warhol had changed the cultural landscape yet again, without really trying. And to think people just thought he was nuts.

Judy Carne: A Truly 60s Star

The vivacious Judy

How Joyce Botterill became briefly one of the most famous women in the world.

On the 3rd of September 2015 Joyce Audrey Botterill died of pneumonia at Northampton General Hospital aged 76 to little acknowledgement. Few people knew who Joyce Botterill was but millions of a certain age knew who Judy Carne was. Hardly anyone will have known Joyce and Judy were the same person.

Joyce Botterill was born in 1939 in the same town she died in 2015, Northampton. Between these two events, Judy Carne became, briefly, one of the most famous comedy performers in the world. Her 60s and 70s credentials were impeccable. Her career summed up what showbiz was like in these decades and in the same way as her career went stratospheric, it just as swiftly collapsed around her in the late 70s, never to be rekindled.

Her hugely readable autobiography with the rather melodramatic Hollywood title, ‘Laughing On The Inside, Crying On The Outside‘ is a who’s who of anyone who was anyone in the UK and US entertainment industry during the 60s and 70s and gives an excellent account of her rise and fall. The scope of this article, however, is not to dwell on her downfall or the tragic events that led to it but to celebrate her fascinating achievements throughout the 60s and 70s where she was at the vanguard of a developing and changing comedy culture. So how, exactly, did Joyce Botterill, the greengrocer’s daughter from Northampton become the Hollywood performer known to everyone, Judy Carne?

Judy on the left. Very psychedelic, very Laugh-In

For a brief period, Judy Carne was the ‘sock-it-me girl’ on the biggest and most ground-breaking comedy show in the world, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. But her journey to this career pinnacle is just as interesting as this programme’s cultural cache. It has always fascinated me how British performers, particularly actors, can move from humble beginnings in the UK to stellar success in Hollywood, specifically during the first part of the 20th century. Right up to the 1980s the US was an exciting, mysterious place that had a particular aura. Things happened there that didn’t happen here. We all knew what it looked like, we’d seen the films and TV series, listened to the music and read the comics and all this only added to its mystery and glamour. But getting there wasn’t easy, to say the least. Going there was virtually out of the question for most working people due to the cost of flights, accommodation and more than a little trepidation about what you’d find there. It was very much another country, almost like another planet. Trying to get there, right up to the early 60s, required a lot of money or a lot luck.

One only has to think of Chaplin, Stan Laurel and Cary Grant. Hollywood legends who all started in various obscure corners of the UK. How did they rise to world fame and success from relative backwaters of the UK like Lambeth, Ulverston and Bristol? The reason was they all had the good luck and talent to have toured America with performing companies. Chaplin and Laurel (or Jefferson as he was then known) went with the legendary Fred Karno company while Grant (or Archie Leach) went with the Pender Troupe. Judy Carne’s route to the US was of a similar nature although much more modern, as one would expect.

But what about this weird name? OK, Joyce Botterill does not trip off the tongue or seem even remotely glamorous. But Judy Carne? Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish or French knows the word ‘carne’ means ‘meat.’ Even by 60s standards, and Judy’s body was most certainly exploited on Laugh-In, this is a bit strong. The reason for this change of name though was rather more prosaic. She had been in a play at stage school entitled Sister Bonaventure and had played an evil murderess called Sarah Carne and just decided it went well with ‘Judy’, which she’d already decided on as a stage name. I wonder if she’d have persisted with it if she’d known what it really meant? We’ll never know although someone must have pointed it out eventually.

After graduating from the Bush-Davis Theatrical School for Girls she moved to London and began to appear in various stage productions and, in 1961, her 60s credentials really began to kick in. Small parts in Danger Man with the great Patrick McGoohan and The Rag Trade with Reg Varney and Barbara Windsor, for example. Around this time she also struck up friendships, and often more than friendships according to her autobiography, with Vidal Sassoon, Stirling Moss and Anthony Newley. She appeared (uncredited) in a couple of films also, the most interesting of which was Jazzboat where she met Newley, and another of the stars was a young Bernie Winters (who I don’t think she had an affair with)(See As Mad As A Ha’penny Watch: The Strange Case of 60s Comedians). She was performing at this time as one of the Lionel Blair Dancers and Mr. Blair (who I also don’t think she had an affair with) himself used to chaperone her around London. In the same year she was even a panellist on Juke Box Jury as the teenage representative, just like Magpie’s Susan Stranks (See Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie).

But her life was about to change forever. While filming The Rag Trade and also appearing in theatre revue at night she was called to the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair for an audition. The audition was for a projected American series entitled Fair Exchange which was about an American family and a British family who agree to swap teenage daughters for a year. The series was noteworthy as it was the first sitcom on American TV to be of an hour’s duration. Judy was eventually offered the part of the British daughter who went to the US and it was here her American adventure began.

The series itself was filmed in the US and, to my knowledge, was never broadcast in the UK but the cast was particularly interesting. Playing Judy’s younger brother was a very young Dennis Waterman and playing her dad was an actor who was a very well known face to all British film and TV viewers, though few would probably recall his name, Victor Maddern. Maddern’s IMDB listing is as long as your arm. With well over 200 credits he appeared in pretty much every well known British TV series and many films, usually in very small parts, maybe only one line, but his craggy looks and gruff cockney delivery guaranteed him endless roles playing heavies and squaddies. Fair Exchange was probably the biggest role he ever had and, interestingly, after the two US-based series of Fair Exchange ended, he landed parts in both Bonanza and Perry Mason, two of America’s biggest and longest running series. For anyone stumbling across him in either of those two episodes it must have been an oddly jarring experience to see so British an actor. Maddern ran a sideline from acting which was a public speaking school. As a big Tory supporter he offered reduced rates to Conservative MPs and constituency workers. And to think I always quite liked him. Sometimes it’s better not to google people..

Fair Exchange: Spot the young Dennis Waterman

Fair Exchange ran for two series, which suggests it must have been reasonably popular, as real duds don’t survive the first series in the cut-throat US schedules. When this finished Judy decided to remain in the US, and who could have blamed her, which was a pretty brave course of action for a still only 21 year old. Much of her time was spent contacting agents and casting directors. This led to a part in a short-lived American sitcom, which also was not broadcast in the UK, called The Baileys of Balboa about a family who run a chartered yacht business in California. It was set up to run against the very popular, and very similar, Gilligan’s Island and lasted only one 26 part series. This pretty much established Judy in American TV though and soon she got her first starring role in, yet another US only series, Love on a Rooftop. It’s worth remembering that in the UK in the early 60s we still had only two channels. On top of that, TV really only broadcast from 5pm till about 11.30. The protestant work ethic required decent people to be working during the day and then to bed at an appropriate hour to be ready for work again the following day. Space for American series on our two networks was limited.

It was while promoting Fair Exchange in 1963 that Joyce from Northampton would meet her first husband, who would eventually become the biggest actor in the US, Burt Reynolds. It’s true to say that some American actors who are huge in their own country don’t really translate to the UK. Warren Beatty is one. Though popular and well-known in the UK, he has never been the household name, the mega-star he was, and still is, in the US. Burt Reynolds was the same. His films were fairly successful, though most of them were pretty one-dimensional, but he never had the huge popularity in the UK of someone like Robert Redford, Paul Newman or Jack Nicholson. When he met Judy on a flight to Florida he was a fairly established TV star on the long-running western Gunsmoke, which was broadcast in the UK. His best days were yet to come but it was still quite a coup when, after a whirlwind romance, he and Judy Carne were married. The marriage was short-lived though. Burt believed in a woman knowing her place and being a nest-builder. He would call it being ‘traditional’ although tradition is always a flag of convenience for people trying to justify the unjustifiable. According to Judy he could be aggressive and, sometimes, violent and insanely jealous. It says a lot about her that she was prepared to seek a divorce rather than accept the role he expected her to take on. That said, they remained friends and when times got tough for Judy in the late 70s and 80s he was one of the few who continued to support her. One has to remember how young they were when they met and got married.

Love on a Rooftop in 1966 was when Judy’s career began to get really interesting. Her co-star was tragic 70s idol Pete Duel of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid-inspired Alias Smith and Jones. Love on a Rooftop was based on the Neil Simon play and film Barefoot in the Park starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, the plot being about an art student from a rich family (Carne) and a struggling apprentice architect (Duel). Due to their lack of money they move into a tiny attic flat in San Francisco and confusion and misunderstandings, of course, ensue. They even have a nutty neighbour played by well-known US comedian, Rich Little. The series, again, was not re-commissioned despite reasonable viewing figures but Carne and Duel were now relatively hot properties.

They remained very good friends, even having a brief fling, until Duel’s suicide in 1971. Quentin Tarantino was reported as saying that Leonardo De Caprio’s character, Rick Dalton, in the brilliant Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, was based on Duel. His suicide in 1971, which I remember vividly, caused shock waves when it was reported, even in the UK. Alias Smith and Jones was one of the most popular series on TV and was still being produced when he died. Reports on why he shot himself are vague though some feel it was due to depression due to his drinking and he had been arrested some months previously for driving under the influence and injuring two people. Alias Smith and Jones continued, however. US networks would never scrap a popular series just because of a minor problem like a star’s suicide, and recruited Roger Davies to take on the Duel part. The series failed to recover without Duel and was cancelled after one more season.

Carne went on to appear in some of the biggest series in America after this on a guest star basis including I Dream of Jeannie with Larry Hagman, The Big Valley, a number of episodes of the very wonderful The Man From Uncle (The Girl From UNCLE: A Brief But Memorable Phenomenon) and even guest starred with her pal Pete Duel in Alias Smith and Jones before his death.

In 1968 she hit the jackpot when she landed a role in the biggest and most influential American comedy show of 60s, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, although she won’t have known it at the time.

Dan and Dick

Laugh-In, as it was usually referred to, was a groundbreaking new type of comedy show that reflected the changing, ‘anything goes’ anti-establishment culture of the late 60s. Designed to take on the might of Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show, it was made up of quick-fire gags, catchphrases, recurring characters, a scattergun approach to structure, all dressed up in sexually-charged psychedelia. It’s title was a pun on anti-establishment movements of the sixties, ‘love-ins,’ sit-ins,’ and ‘bed-ins.’ It fortuitously coincided with the spread of colour television and was a truly colourful visual experience. For Judy, coming to this from Love on a Rooftop couldn’t have been more different. After an initial pilot show it was commissioned for 14 episodes. By Season 2 it is was the most watched TV programme of the year in the US taking a whopping 38% share of the viewing audience.

Each character had their own particular role and catchphrase. The personnel changed from season to season but certain characters are remembered, mainly from the hugely successful first three seasons, at the end of which Judy left, but not before cementing her place in comedy broadcasting history.

Long running cast member Arte Johnson, for example, played a German Nazi officer, and at the end of a sketch he would be seen hiding behind a bush or plant smoking a cigarette. ‘Very Interesting….’ and he would deliver a gag about the previous sketch. This became a catchphrase that everyone in the US as well as in the UK came to know and was assimilated into everyday the culture. This is probably the character that is remembered most today by viewers of the time. Goldie Hawn‘s character was certainly played against type. In reality a very astute and intelligent operator, she played the archetypal dumb blonde with a whiny voice, often getting her lines wrong. Henry Gibson was a small man who would recite his own daft poetry. Jo Ann Worley, a larger than life, loud, brassy comedian would play a hysterical woman at a party constantly complaining about her unseen boyfriend, Boris.

A rather curious regular in season 3 of Laugh-In was English actor Jeremy Lloyd. With no previous American track record it’s uncertain how he ended up playing the archetypal Englishman on RMLI. He was a truly sixties presence though. Having appeared in both A Hard Day’s Night and Help, he also appeared in the first ever colour episode of fantastic 60s fourth series of The Avengers (From Venus With Love) where he played a posh chimney sweep (See The Avengers: Quirk, Strangeness and Charm (and bags of style)). After completing season 3 of RMLI he returned to the UK, met Joanna Lumley, and decided not to return for season 4 as they ended up getting married. He then became best known for co-writing Are You Being Served? (and inventing the line, ‘Captain Peacock, keep your hands off my pussy!’) and then ‘Allo, ‘Allo. (We might look down snootily on such low-brow comedy but neither show was Mrs Brown’s Boys. And, to be fair, some of it is funny!). Even more interesting was that, according to Lloyd, on the night of the Tate murders in August 10 1969 he claimed to have been invited to Cielo Drive for dinner but turned it down. Then again, many celebrities also claimed to have been invited. It’s a damn good story though.

Jeremy looking quite relieved he got a takeaway that night.

To modern readers this may not sound the most side-splitting comedy ever but one shouldn’t underestimate its influence after years and years of middle-class sitcoms set in suburbia. In the UK Monty Python was just taking off and although the humour was very different, the format was of a similar left-field nature. Without Laugh-In it’s debatable whether we’d have had fondly remembered sketch shows such as The Fast Show, Vic Reeves Big Night Out or Harry Enfield And Friends.

Judy’s main character was as ‘the sock-it-to me girl‘ where she would look right into the camera and say one of the show’s very 60s catchphrases and would have it ‘socked to her’ in a range of very different, and often quite painful and unpleasant ways. Water, paint, trap doors and flying objects featured in these recurring skits. She grew very tired of them and it also contributed to her leaving the show at the end of season 3. She also had a character who was a telephonist at a switchboard. She would begin the sketch, ‘Beautiful downtown Burbank, how can I help you?’ (Burbank being where the Laugh-In studio was based).

Judy having it well and truly socked to her.

Other recurring sketches included The Party where a range of stock characters would do short gag routines in turn while at a disco, right at the start of the show. The Joke Wall at the end of the show where doors would open and a cast member would tell a one-liner while Dick and Dan bantered. This routine influenced many other variety shows and still does. And Mod Mod World where the attractive cast members including Judy would be dressed in up-to the moment gear and be covered in psychedelic drawings as the disco flashed coloured lights and the music would stop for the girls to deliver a gag. Describing these moments, I know, fails to put across the energy and excitement of the show but it was truly innovative at the time. Honestly.

Smart dumb blonde, Goldie Hawn in Laugh-In.

As the popularity of the show surged guest stars were introduced throughout for little vignettes at various times. The guests Laugh-In attracted were truly stellar. Richard Nixon, of all people, dropped in while campaigning in 1968 and put his subsequent victory down to this appearance. His Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey declined an invitation. Sammy Davis Jnr, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jack Benny and Johnny Carson all made regular appearances. Even Big John Wayne turned up, a strange moment given his ultra-conservative views.

Laugh-In was also responsible for launching the career of high-voiced ukulele player, Tiny Tim. An odd long-haired eccentric whose signature tune, Tiptoe Through The Tulips became known worldwide, his appearances on Laugh-In shot him to stardom (The Utterly Weird Adventures Of Tiny Tim). He even had a guest appearance on The Golden Shot in 1969 which made him a household name in the UK. In the US, in true showbiz style, he married his first wife of four, 17 year old Miss Vicki, 20 years his junior, before a TV audience of 40 million on the Johnny Carson Show in 1969.

A truly surreal moment from Laugh-In. Dan, Dick, Big John Wayne and Tiny Tim.

Judy left RMLI at the end of season 3 in 1970. According to her autobiography the programme just bored her and she was getting less and less to do. Just before leaving Laugh-In she performed a song American Moon on the Johnny Carson Show on the night of the moon landing. But her own star was beginning to wane. She continued to appear on chat shows and panel games, did cabaret in Vegas and appeared on Broadway in a revival of The Boyfriend. Drugs, a bad second marriage and a drying up of work effectively ended her career. A serious car crash where she broke her neck forced her to return to Northampton to be looked after by her parents, and she stayed there, living quietly, for the rest of her life.

When she died, few people under the age of 55 will have known who Judy Carne was or that, briefly, she made it very, very big in the US. Her achievements should not be underrated though. Maybe if more of the comedy programmes she starred in had been shown in the UK more people would have remembered her but some day Laugh-In will make a comeback and the name Judy Carne will become deservedly well-known again.

Few people epitomised and lived the sixties better than she did.

Here’s Something I Wrote Earlier: Blue Peter v Magpie

Everyone of a certain age remembers Blue Peter and Magpie but which was best? There’s only one way to find out….

Whenever the subject of Blue Peter and Magpie arises (as it often does), the inevitable question is asked: which did you prefer? It’s a tricky question as I’m not sure I preferred or even particularly liked either of them. However, viewing options were severely limited in those days and you had Hobson’s Choice due to the fact they were broadcast simultaneously on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so you had to watch one of them. Each had it’s own quirkiness, style and irritating elements and, I would argue, both were intensely middle-class in their own ways, but so was the bulk of children’s television in the late 60s and early 70s.

The classic line up.

Whatever you thought of those programmes, though, they were part of growing up and everyone over the age of 50 has memories of them. If not of content, certainly of the various presenters who, despite the lugubriousness of many of the items, were dogged in their pursuit of adventure, learning and, not least, intrepidness. When it comes to intrepidness, Blue Peter wins hands down, though.

The classic line up

Everyone remembers the BP and Magpie themes tunes. A theme tune can define the tone and nature of a TV programme more accurately than anything else. It can also raise a programme above its natural aesthetic station. Would as many people have watched Van Der Valk without its jaunty Euro-jingle? (I love the 70s naffness of The Simon Park Orchestra on re-runs of TOTP with their trying-but-failing-to-be-trendy haircuts, matching Bri-Nylon mustard polo necks, all having such a jolly good time!). Or even (controversially) The High Chaparral? An expansive, epic theme for a fairly formulaic western series. Blue Peter‘s theme was entirely in keeping with the programme’s tone. Laid back, sprightly, unthreatening and would most certainly not upset a type of parent who thought all pop stars were dirty and took drugs. Mind you, the producers did try to get ‘with it’ in the 80s and replaced the old Blue Peter theme with a version by Mike Oldfield. An artist who wouldn’t upset a type of parent who thought all pop stars were dirty and took drugs. It was a bit like when Val Doonican tried to go a bit ‘rocky’ in the 60s. He released an album called ‘Val Doonican Rocks (But Gently).


Magpie producers had no such misgivings. They wanted to hammer their colours to the mast straight away and hired The Spencer Davis Group to record the Magpie theme, even though this group’s best days, sadly, were behind them. And to this day, viewers of the time can still sing the theme tune, though getting the words completely wrong and not being able to get past ‘7’. This theme reflected the mood of Magpie perfectly. A bit ‘out there’, a bit alternative, a bit ‘whay-hey.’ But not irresponsibly so.

It’s the happy percussionist at the back I really like.

Both programmes attempted to reflect the changing music scene throughout the 60s and 70s, although, to be fair, Magpie were a little more cutting edge. As well as using The Spencer Davis Group for their theme tune they had a number of slightly harder edge groups on the show, Manfred Mann for one. BP tended to go for bands that a were a little less challenging. Housewives’ favourites Freddie and the Dreamers for example , or flute-driven soft-poppers Vanity Fair. In 1977 Magpie signed up The Stranglers to appear on the show but things didn’t quite go to plan. The Sex Pistols had just disgorged their filth and fury on that Bill Grundy show (which only people in London had seen anyway) a few weeks previously. This terrified the whole of broadcasting and that included the Magpie production office. The invitation to The Stranglers was promptly withdrawn. What did they think was going to happen? Were they going to shit and vomit live all over the Teddington Lock studio floor before a juvenile audience of 5 million? Just before an item on how toothbrushes were manufactured? Well maybe, but what a show that would have been!

Blue Peter began a whole 10 years before Magpie in 1958. After a couple of years it settled on its two principle presenters, Val Singleton, who became a household name and still is in many households, and Christopher Trace, whose demise from the show was very un-Blue Peter like.

Looks like butter wouldn’t melt in Chris’s mouth.

Chris was the classic BBC avuncular children’s host. Greatly fond of Arran jumpers (must have been bloody roasting under the studio lights) his clipped middle England accent was perfect for this new type of fun, educational show. The intrepid days were some way off, but Chris was chummy, unthreatening and you believed everything he said. His BBC credentials were impeccable. Public school, Sandhurst, Artillery Regiment, promoted to Lieutenant. He was even a body double for Charlton Heston in Ben Hur! But it wasn’t going to be enough for poor old Chris.

One of my earliest memories of BP, and one of my favourites, was when Chris and Val took the BP cameras on a visit to that frozen hinterland up north known as Scotland. Most of their items featured people from Surrey or Middlesex (wherever those places were) so for them to come to Scotland was exciting. For some reason they visited a toy shop and seemed to be deciding on the spot what they were going to buy. Val went first. ‘I really like dolls. Do you have any dolls?’ The old wifie behind the counter provided her with some random dolls. ‘And I like train sets. Do you have any train sets?’ enquired Chris. Well it was a fucking toy shop Chris, and he was duly given some train sets. So far so stereotypical. Equal opportunities hadn’t even been invented then. ‘And how much do we owe you?’ giggled Val. ‘A hunner poonds‘ chanced the rapacious old biddy behind the counter. Val fumbles in her purse but Chris beats her to it. ‘I’ve got a hundred pounds,’ says Chris producing a bulging wallet. A hundred pounds on toys!!! Jesus, I just about fainted. Which was a rare event while watching Blue Peter.

Chris’s cavalier approach to cash in this item reflected a cavalier approach to other aspects of the programme, according to reports within the production team at the time. An indiscretion while on a BP trip to Norway in 1965 where he allegedly slept with another woman didn’t help. Certainly not with his wife who promptly divorced him. All this proved to be his undoing and he was dismissed in 1967. And he seemed like such a nice chap.

Chris was airbrushed out the BP picture in true Soviet style. No announcement about his leaving, one week he was there and the next he went the way of Leon Trotsky (minus the ice pick, as far as we know). Chris who? Not a Trace was left (har har)! The exit door had begun to creak slightly ajar with the appointment of the one and only John Noakes in late 1965. In the same way Chris Trace was airbrushed out, John was airbrushed in. No announcement that this guy who had ridden, yes ridden, into the BBC studios on a shire horse (very Blue Peter!) was the new presenter, he just turned up again the following week and he was actually, like, presenting things. And what an appointment he turned out to be. He was so successful it allowed the producer, the autocratic Biddy Baxter, to get shot of Chris just over a year later.

But what of Val? Impeccable BBC credentials. Daughter of an RAF Wing-Commander, public school, RADA. What more could Lord Reith want? Val was a stalwart of BP as a presenter for 10 years, but as her media interests developed she went part time, and also fronted Blue Peter Special Assignments which were fairly turgid affairs on things like the Niagara Falls and Yukon River and meeting sundry dull royal personages. Throughout her time on BP one of Val’s most memorable roles was to present the ‘Make It Yourself’ (well, she was a lady) section which invariably involved sticky-back plastic, squezy bottles and that white sticky stuff I later found out was called Copydex. Some other items were often used, most of which you wouldn’t be able to get your hands on even if you wanted to. Did anyone, and I mean anyone, ever try to make these things at home? No, of course they didn’t. But it filled in a good 10 minutes of the programme. It can’t have been easy coming up with 30 minutes of content twice a week, and a run was probably about 45 weeks a year. Only stopping for a short time while they filmed the Blue Peter Summer Trip, or whatever it was called.

Although Val’s association with BP is probably on a par with John Noakes, it’s difficult to remember many particularly notable moments during her time on the show. That’s, of course, if you choose to forget the time she was nearly killed while filming in a high power boating accident on the Thames. Like the true pro she is, she was back in the Blue Peter studio straight after telling us of the time she was almost decapitated in the cause of children’s light entertainment. Tell that to the bozos across at Magpie!

And, of course, let’s not forget Val’s finest moment on BP, certainly one of BP’s all-time finest moments, when she takes an almost fully grown lion into a corner shop after a short visit to a children’s play park. Well, it only said ‘No Dogs Allowed.’ In true BP style she has borrowed Valentine the Lion from Chessington Zoo for the day and a dishevelled and busy TV presenter has messages to get. As it’s grainy black and white footage we are spared seeing the sweat trickle down the lady shopkeeper’s immaculately coiffed forehead and the blind panic in her eyes as Valentine mounts the counter, or the look of rigid terror on the face of a man inadvertently dropping in for 20 Benson’s when Valentine attacks him as he cowers foetally in the corner. Something a little more than a bull in a china shop, for sure. And 3/5 for a packet of mints and a tin of golden syrup? Robbing bastards.

And talking of risking one’s life to entertain middle-class brats in their middle-class homes, what about John’s quite breathtaking ascent of Nelson’s column? The perfunctory way he describes clambering up the barely secure step ladders and his unharnessed (or should that be unhinged?) stroll around the statue 169 feet above the metropolis was dizzying to say the least. But spare a thought for the poor shlub who was filming this historic moment whilst climbing and operating a camera! No one remembers him. And what was Magpie doing at this time? Taking a barge trip on the frigging Norfolk Broads?

No anecdotes about BP could fail to reference the legendary baby elephant debacle. This footage really is all its cracked up to be and is the classic example of how live TV can go disastrously wrong. Or in this case, right. Its something that cannot be described adequately in words. All I’ll say is that John put his best foot forward.

However, a lesser known item but one remembered fondly by myself featured an East European strongman trying to break a world record through some feat of brute strength. Igor or Ivan or whatever his name was could speak no English. Apparently. After he summarily broke the record he threw up his arms shouting in a deep East European voice, ‘I have eet! I have eet!’, with John shuffling about not quite knowing how to respond. His oddly literal choice of language, obviously taught to him by someone with an academic smattering of the lingo, should he be successful in his endeavour, struck a cord with the young male audience. What if a wag had taught him ‘Fucking brilliant!‘ instead? This was live TV after all. Next day in James Gillespie’s Boys’ Primary School playground 10 year olds were running round shouting ‘I have eet! I have eet! Whenever I successfully perform a task well to this day, I still walk round shouting ‘I have eet! I have eet!’ Such was the influence of Blue Peter.

Recently a wonderfully odd bit of BP footage was released by BBC Archives. From the mid-70s, it featured a middle-aged lady who was a champion whistler. After some perfunctory banter with John she performed her routine to a Russ Conway instrumental played by John on a small Dansette record player. The act was odd enough, but what raised it from the odd to the utterly bizarre was the fact she wore a complete Hibernian FC football strip. No reference was ever made to why she was wearing this and during her interview it was clear she had no connection with Hibs or even Edinburgh. It is footage that demands to be seen, however, and epitomises the strangeness that a desperation for content brought upon Blue Peter. And for this we should all stand up and rejoice because such moments enhance our humdrum lives.

Like John’s low-key introduction to young Blue Peter viewers (they might not be able to cope with such monumental change in their tiny lives), Peter Purves’s introduction to BP was similarly muted. At least Pete got to talk in his first appearance, however. In a link to a feature on life-saving in the swimming pool John just let us know, ‘We sent Peter Purves along to find out.’ Next week, with no acknowledgement, there’s Peter Purves in the studio looking like he owns the place! But the times they were a-changing and Pete’s credentials were very different to those of the early BP presenters. He trained to be a teacher and through acting in Rep ended up in the first series of Dr Who. Like John, he was even from t’north!

And, get this, in 2008 Val revealed she had a ‘brief fling’ with him. As Pete commented in his autobiography about Val:

She is a very pretty girl. Beautiful, beautiful face. Most attractive. I had watched her on the box and thought, phwoar, she’s all right.’ 

I’m going stop writing for a minute or so, at this specific point, just to allow the revelatory impact of the last few sentences to filter through my brain receptors.

One minute on and its still resonating……..

When it became clear Val saw her future elsewhere (I wonder why?) and became only a part time presenter on BP, a new female presenter was brought in.


Step forward Lesley Judd.

Lesley’s CV up to this point was ‘interesting’. The most intriguing part of it being a role as a hostess on a Rediffusion quiz show presented by Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart called Exit! It’s The Way Out Show! The verbosity of the title, the overuse of exclamation marks, the inclusion of the very 60s punning expression ‘Way Out‘ and, of course, the participation of ‘Stewpot‘ and Lesley make me want to see this, presumably short-lived, series. Desperately. She was a member of Rolf’s Young Generation dancers, like Golden Shot Golden girl Wei Wei Wong, before becoming a Blue Peter presenter. Despite her longevity on BP she was never given a long-term contract. In contrast to, what I thought was, her rather bland personality (this was Blue Peter remember), her private life seemed to be rather turbulent. Her first marriage (of four) was to Basil Brush’s first, and most memorable sidekick, Mr Derek (Fowlds), later of Yes, Minister and Heartbeat, recently deceased. When one of her marriages broke down in the 70s, her aggrieved husband threatened to go to the papers with ‘revelations.’ This, of course threatened her tenure with BP, but, thankfully for Lesley, nothing came of it. One wonders what those ‘revelations’ might have contained. Nicking Copydex? Kicking Jason, the Blue Peter Cat? Vandalising the Blue Peter garden? We will never know as, sadly, all of Lesley’s four husbands are no longer with us.

Lesley pulls back the boundaries of equality.

It’s hard to remember any particular item that featured Lesley. Unless you’d forgotten that she nearly lost her life whilst being hoisted onto the Bishop’s Rock lighthouse in a storm, her harness snapped and she was almost dashed to a pulp on the overhanging bluffs before being frantically pulled on to a waiting boat. And she couldn’t swim. And they still didn’t give her a long-term contract. Biddy Baxter? More like Biddy Bastard.

In Pete’s 2009 autobiography catchily titled ‘Here’s One I Wrote Earlier..‘ he even alludes to a ‘liaison’ with Lesley! Well, I’ll go to the bottom of my stairs. It’s my firm belief that the perpetrator of the vandalisation of said Blue Peter garden may even have been one of Lesley’s ex-husbands in an act of frenzied vindictiveness. Maybe it was a bit like the killers in Murder on the Orient Express. Makes you wonder what Percy Thrower got up to in the Blue Peter studio. And just who was the father of Daniel, the Blue Peter baby?

It’s time we were told.

A stallion in the Blue Peter studio. Plus John, Lesley and a horse.

It’s fair to say that my researches into that middle-class phenomenon that was Blue Peter in the 60s and 70s threw up some facts that surprised, and yay, shocked me. I was really planning a leisurely stroll through the blandness and predictability that I believed Blue Peter epitomised. But in true David Lynch fashion, there’s a dark underbelly stirring below that most seemingly civilised of surfaces. And it doesn’t really take Jacques Lacan to work out that the young me was very much in the Blue Peter camp, I wasn’t really a child who was prepared to take chances. I was, and still am, very BBC.

So what of BP’s noisy neighbours, that thing they called the Magpie?

Magpie was first broadcast at 5.10pm on Tuesday July 30th 1968. Coincidentally, around the same time Blue Peter went out. In 1969 it went out twice weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Coincidentally around the same time Blue Peter went out. It was certainly devised to give BP a run for its money in a much edgier, immediate way. With this in mind, at least for the first couple of years, Magpie was unscripted. But as this proved a nightmare on live telly they soon reverted to autocue.

Really quite a funky title sequence

The first three presenters were a rather mixed bag.

Canadian Pete Brady, a former DJ, was a bit of a dull old spud. He stayed until 1971 but no one really noticed he’d gone.

Tony Bastable, whose name, curiously, always made my dad laugh, was the down-to-earth, facts and science guru. Interestingly, he was the first cover-star of children’s TV Times mag, Look-In (La-La-La-La-La Look-In!) in which he had a column of overwhelming blandness. These were the days when you had to buy TWO TV listings magazines if you were a certain type of couch potato. TV Times for ITV, Radio (how quaint) Times for BBC 1 and BBC 2. So their in-house columnist at Look-In was going to have to be someone da kids would have known from an ITV programme. They couldn’t exactly ask Sooty to do it, although his column would probably have been more interesting.

Tony stayed on as presenter until 1972 when he stepped up to become producer of the show. He went on to front a number of TV shows over the years, none of them particularly interesting with the notable exception of ‘Problems‘, a rather risky for the time programme on sexual problems which he presented with Claire Rayner. As his biography states, it went out ‘late’ as anything which focused on areas below the waist always did. Various mundane car series also followed. One wonders if Tony would present pretty much anything under a flag of convenience.

I know what you’re thinking. Is all this early Magpie stuff going to be this fucking dull? No, it jolly well isn’t because here comes 60s hippy chick Susan Stranks! The third original presenter, Susan provided a little bit of frisson for her young (specifically male) viewers as she famously did not wear a Brassiere! Not that I noticed I have to say. I was too busy trying fruitlessly to source sticky back plastic. But enough of this pathetic prurience. Stranks had been a young actress and had appeared in a number of British B films but shot to relative fame when she, somehow, became the ‘typical teenager’ on David Jacob’s Juke Box Jury in the 60s. Her job was to comment on the records featured and give a young person’s view of them which, I have no doubt, would have been accepted patronisingly by Jacobs and the rest of the ageing JBJ panel. Panelists included ‘with-it’ hep cats such as Eric Sykes, Thora Hird and, bizarrely, Alfred Hitchcock. Now, how ‘typical’ a London-based child actress was is anyone’s guess but it was a pretty cool gig whichever way you look at it.

The ultra-hip Juke Box Jury audience about to go berserk!

My one abiding memory of Susan Stranks (note I don’t refer to her as ‘Susan’ or ‘Sue’ in the way I chummily refer to ‘Val’ or ‘John’ which says a lot about the household nature of tea-time behemoths BP), was of her riding into the studio on the back of a camel, and looking rather haughty, I have to say. But that’s not a lot to go on.

Never mind Susan Stranks, I’m intrigued by those ‘Kitchen Clock Bargains.’

She was married to Robin Ray, son of British showbiz royalty, comedian Ted Ray and brother actor Andrew Ray. Robin was originally an actor but gave it up to teach drama at RADA. He then packed this in to become the first chairman of a new BBC 2 show, Call My Bluff, eventually replaced by the wonderfully sarcastic, similarly alliterative, Robert Robinson. He was also a regular panelist on music show for egg-heads, Face The Music along with the great Joyce Grenfell and newsreader Richard Baker. To imagine the BBC or any TV channel putting on a prime time show about obscure classical music is unthinkable now. One of the rounds on FTM required chairman Joseph Cooper to play a classical piece on a dummy keyboard which emitted no sound. Three minutes of silence would ensue as the panelists had to try and identify the piece and the composer purely from Cooper’s hand movements. Tell that to kids nowadays and they won’t believe you.

Stranks left the ‘pie (see what I did there?) in 1974 but turned up again with her own series Paperplay shortly after. In this series she had two regular characters made out of paper (unsurprisingly) named Itsy and Bitsy. My brother and I used to refer to them as Titsy and Bitsy. Didn’t half make us chortle, I can tell you. Do you think I’m struggling a bit? Don’t worry, we’re getting there…

We were moving, inexorably, towards the Magpie classic line up, however, and enter, stage left, Dougie Rae. Dougie replaced the terminally dull Pete Brady in 1971 having, to my memory, been a young reporter on the Scotland Today news magazine programme. Next up was hairy researcher Mick Robertson who replaced Bastable after he became the show’s producer. Mick tried to use his hippy Magpie fame to become a pop star. He released two singles, the first being The Tango’s Over. His second release was called, intriguingly, Then I Change hands. Neither charted.

But pray silence for the final piece in the classic Magpie jigsaw which was Miss Jenny Hanley, replacing Stranks in ’74.

Jenny with that slightly faraway look in her eyes again.

At last! Someone worth writing about! And damned interesting she is too.

Hanley, was also from B list showbiz royalty. Her dad, Jimmy Hanley, was a well known film matinee actor. With boy-next-door rather than leading man looks Jimmy appeared in nearly 50 films over 30 years dying prematurely at the age of 51. But not before his flagging career forced him to take a job at that metaphaphorical and literal end of the acting road, the Crossroads motel, in 1966 (But much more on that later). Jimmy was married four times, his first marriage to matinee actress Dinah Sheridan, produced the lovely Jenny.

Dinah Sheridan was, arguably, more famous than Jimmy. Few people nowadays could recall a Jimmy Hanley film, even The Blue Lamp which introduced us to George Dixon of Dock Green fame and a young Dirk Bogarde. One Jimmy Hanley film definitely worth catching is the early 1950s British Noir It Always Rains On Sundays starring Googie Withers. Those good people at Talking Pictures TV have recently shown it so watch out for a repeat. However, many people over the age of 50 will remember Dinah’s flimsy, unthreatening 1950’s vintage car comedy ‘Genevieve‘ and everyone will remember her as the mother in 1970’s The Railway Children.

Another of the Hanleys’ offspring was Thatcherite pin-up boy Jeremy Hanley who became Chairman of the Conservative Party in John Major‘s government. Well, you can choose your friends…..

Before being crowned Magpie nobility, Jenny was an actress of slightly below average esteem. Usually playing glamorous parts she inhabited a number of, to use that favourite of tabloid words, ‘raunchy’ roles. Her CV reads like a 1973 edition of TV Times. Department S, The Persuaders! (which always, oddly, had that superfluous exclamation mark), Return of the Saint, Man About The House, Warship, Softly Softly: Task Force and The Two Ronnies all pad out her IMDB listing. Although a few rather ‘racy’ ( another favoured euphemism in the 70s for filth) parts also abound, for example ‘Miss Teenage Lust‘ in the film Percy’s Progress and ‘Handmaid‘ in “Shirley’s World‘. But let’s not forget probably her crowning acting achievement in, what for me is the best Bond film of all, though certainly not the greatest Bond, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Alongside Joanna Lumley and the wonderful Diana Rigg (much more on her to come), Jenny played, implausibly, ‘Irish Girl.‘ Probably not a stretch but it sort of went downhill for her after that and her acting career went the way of the skier pursuing Bond who fell into the snow plough.

But hold that front page! I’d completely forgotten the lovely Jenny was also the Daz woman in the early 80s. I certainly wouldn’t swap my Daz for two cheaper brands if propositioned by Jenny! Would you?

Now I’ve put another unpalatable story to one side for as long as I can but am going to have to acknowledge the elephant in the room, or should I say the horse in the stables. Unsavoury rumours abounded about an item which the lovely Jenny, of all people, was sent along to cover by the Magpie production team. This story, implausibly, was about how horses mated or, more specifically, how horse semen was collected. A visibly shaken and ever-so-slightly aroused Jenny was, as the rumours suggested, the result of the horse’s pixellated phallus producing the substance by the bucketload. A great deal of research has gone into proving or disproving this distasteful anecdote, but to no avail. Only vague fragments pertaining to the story seem to exist within that thing they call the internet. Would a children’s tea-time light entertainment programme feature such an item as young viewers were getting stuck into their fish fingers or crispy pancakes? Would the bastards in the production office have sent the scented Jenny to cover such primordial functions? Why does this rumour persist despite there being so little hard evidence? Why has this rumour been almost pixellated out of existence? We may never find out. Unless, of course, you know differently?

Despite all the rumpy-pumpy and shenanigans going on over at Broadcasting House, it’s fair to say Susan Stranks and Jenny Hanley won hands down in the adolescent boy appeal stakes. Susan’s economy of underwear has already been mentioned and Jenny always seemed to have a slightly faraway look in her eyes. With the narrow range of channel choice on offer in those days, it was always likely you might come across a raunchy clip from Department S, for example, featuring Jenny and 70s sex bomb Jason King in flagrante, which only added to her allure. Let’s face it, it was never going to be Bunty James of How!

In the cultural two-horse race between these broadcasting thoroughbreds there could only be one winner, though. Everyone over the age of 50 remembers a whole swathe of items from BP but, Hanley aside, who remembers any item from Magpie? They may have tried to be edgy, alternative and more zeitgeist but when it came to the crunch, BP won in a canter. Compared to Blue Peter, Magpie’s contribution to popular culture, though significant, was only a drop in the bucket. They just weren’t at the races.

In the end, there is only one word to describe fittingly the colossal and influential effect Blue Peter had on our young lives.


Federico Fellini: His Life On Film?

What is it that defines visually a Fellini film?

When attempting to describe a particularly chaotic scene he had witnessed, a friend once said to me, ‘It was like a Fellini film!’ Now this friend was far from being a cineaste, only visited the cinema occasionally and hadn’t even been to Italy, but he instinctively knew what a Fellini film looked like. This is true of many people who would never admit to being familiar with Italian Neo-Realism or any other style associated with cinema from that part of the world. So how do so many people know what a Fellini film looks like?

Fellini would have been 100 years old this year and, in celebration, digitally restored versions of his films have been released and are being shown at cinemas all over the world. As I watched Fellini’s Roma and La Strada as part of this centenary retrospective, my friend’s comment all those years ago came back to me. It made me realise that Fellini is one of the few directors in cinematic history whose body is work is so distinctive that a single scene or even a single frame from any of his films could be displayed and it would be immediately obvious who created it. One could also say the same thing about Picasso, Dali or Velasquez, for example, but these artists created static images. To talk about a film director in such illustrious company is rare.

So what is it about Fellini’s work that is so visually distinctive? How do people, whose interest in cinema is merely superficial, know what a typical Fellini scene looks like? To state the bleeding obvious, it’s the meticulous staging of his films, but how is this extraordinary, idiosyncratic ‘look’ created? There’s more to that than meets the eye…

Needless to say, there is no one element that, above all, creates the Fellini ‘look’ and, in no particular order, I am going to consider some the ingredients that coalesce to construct what we describe as ‘Fellini-esque.’ The scope of this article, however, is not an attempt to explain or decipher what these images necessarily mean, many critics have done this in extensive studies, although certain elements are briefly considered. But this is about the ‘look’ of a Fellini film and it is the ‘look’ that provides so much excitement and pleasure for the viewer. And it is this ‘look’ that raises Fellini above so many other artists and why so many other directors and auteurs cite him as a major influence.

Fellini began working in films with that giant of neo-realist cinema, Roberto Rossellini, and this, inevitably, influenced his earlier films profoundly. One of the tenets of neo-realism was the use of non-professional actors, a principle that Fellini stuck with throughout his career. Although he worked regularly with his principle actors, the brilliant Marcello Mastroianni and his muse (and wife) Giulietta Masina, the bulk of his cast were just ordinary people. Fellini was known to hang out in Piazza del Popolo in his adopted Rome where he would find ‘interesting’ looking people and ask them to be in his film. Who in Rome would turn down Italy’s greatest director? Fellini loved ‘grotesques’. Not grotesque in the sense of ‘ugly’ but as ‘fantastic in the shaping and combination of forms.’ Fellini’s characters were rarely the chiselled, beautiful people that usually populate films but ordinary people whose faces told a story, people who had lived through difficult times, people who Fellini saw as being uniquely Italian.

This use of compelling and engaging characters influenced a whole raft of American and European directors including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Nicolas Roeg and Pier Paulo Pasolini.

The way Fellini brought these characters together in scenes and introduced them to the viewing audience was also characteristic, large, long, sometimes round, often white-powdered faces suddenly lurching from the bottom or side of the frame to take up the whole screen.

His crowd scenes were often protracted and meticulously staged with a moving camera weaving and darting between the characters, often families, as they shout, bawl, eat, drink, fight, argue, dance, romance and perform. In these scenes the seething mass of humanity is the star, this is Italian life as Fellini sees it, the common denominator by which Italy is defined.

Fellini grew up in the 1920s in Rimini on the north east coast of Italy. Like most children at this time he was, of course, brought up catholic and this inevitably had an effect on him as nuns and priests feature in most Fellini films. His treatment of them is usually comedic and often surreal. The ecclesiastical fashion show in Roma is a classic satirical moment within his body of work. But pretty much any street or crowd scene will feature a bespectacled, grim looking priest or a gaggle of bewimpled nuns, for no other reason than they were ubiquitous in Italy at the time and had a profound influence on his early life, like all Italian children from this era.. Deliberate or not, they always added an element of comedy to any scene.

Fellini’s films are clearly autobiographical, but which elements of them are fact and which are fiction has been an ongoing source of debate. Fellini was always only too happy to muddy the waters on this subject and his treatment of the clergy is no different. Whether he was being critical about religion generally or just the Catholic Church is anybody’s guess. But it certainly made for hilarious cinema when a nun or priest suddenly darted into the shot in a typically Felliniesque scene for no apparent narrative reason. in a strange sort of way it has become comic because being a Fellini film, the viewer expects a nun or priest to suddenly appear unannounced.

Fellini claims to have run away to the circus when he was a child. Whether this actually happened, no one except Fellini himself really knows, but circuses and particularly clowns appear randomly and frequently in his films in a similar way to priests and nuns. He even made one of the first ‘mockumentaries’ about his obsession with clowns for Italian TV in 1970. Any Fellini film that failed to feature clowns in some way would be disappointing. But it’s Fellini. He doesn’t need a reason to feature them.

As so much of Fellini’s output is autobiographical, there are certain settings which feature in most of his films. Growing up in the coastal town of Rimini, beaches are a recurring setting in most of his films, particularly his early ones. In La Strada, for example, the film begins and ends on a beach. 81/2, La Dolce Vita and Amaracord all include scenes on beaches.

Empty night time Italian streets and piazzas are given prominence in many of his films. Often after a street has been heaving with action, humanity and life the central character is left alone to deal with their troubles, their melancholy, their dark night of the soul. With only stray dogs, a whistling wind and the harsh moonlight for company, the character reflects on their life as Gelsomina does in La Strada having run away from her harsh ‘keeper’, Zampano. The atmospheric nature of such a setting clearly struck a chord with Fellini whose tragic characters counterpointed the lively and animated nature of the crowd in the street earlier.

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Strange marching brass bands, sometimes of sad looking clowns, appear unheralded and disappear again, almost punctuating important moments. In La Strada they appear in the middle of nowhere as Gelsomina sits feeling sad and sorry for herself but the musicians motivate her to return to Zampano’s act. In 81/2 they march up and down Guido’s huge white elephant of a set, partly referencing Fellini’s love of the circus and partly motivating Guido to try and move forward with his film.

Although not a visual element Fellini’s random manipulation of time is characteristic of his narratives. He may spend half an hour of a film relating the events of a few days and then jump three years ahead, for no obvious reason. Similarly, flashbacks are common and sometimes not always made obvious to the viewer. Fellini’s Roma, for example, jumps around with time, from the autobiographical past to the fictional present, and vice-versa, and back again. One might think Fellini is deliberately trying to blur the edges of time and place to create a Roma that is the one in his head, which is, of course, what the film is all about.

Fellini’s narratives can also be erratic, disordered, uneven and most certainly episodic. In Roma the young Fellini (or who we are led to believe is the young Fellini) has an encounter with a prostitute who fascinates him and he asks our out on a date and she agrees. How the date went or their relationship developed, if at all, is left unanswered. Throughout this film we jump back and forward from the main character’s (Fellini’s?) childhood to his adolescence then to the present and rarely making any sort of narrative sense. But isn’t memory just a series of disordered snapshots in our mind? His films are like this sporadic stream of consciousness and fascinating for it.

Stylistically, Fellini uses the camera to assault the viewer in the most exciting way. Extreme close-ups, aerial shots, POV shots, hand held cameras weaving their way through heaving crowds, jump cuts, long , long takes, deep focus and sweeping dolly shots pepper his films. A Fellini film can be an exhausting experience and often one viewing is nothing like enough. The meticulous mise en scene, scattergun dialogue and ultra-fast editing does not always allow the eye and brain to take in what exactly is happening in each scene. Also taking into account a Fellini film can be over two hours long, this is a mind-blowing amount of material to try and deal with in one sitting. A writer described Fellini’s films as ‘..a luxuriance of ..images‘ and, as mentioned at the start of this article, a single freeze-frame could be seen to encapsulate Fellini’s ouvre.

Fellini has been described by some commentators as ‘self-indulgent‘ and even ‘complacent‘ but in many ways, with a true auteur such as he is, these are desirable qualities and his films have never look dated or ‘uncool’. Quite the contrary. Whether their context and ideas are still relevant is, for me, irrelevant, but they look amazing and never slow down for a second. They are a visual carnival and at a time when we are being bombarded with super heroes weekly, what’s not to like?

Three years ago I was on holiday in New York and stayed at a fashionable hotel in the ultra-hip Lower East Side. In the lift (or elevator as they would say) a screen showed Fellini’s masterpiece 8 1/2 on a loop 24/7. As old films go, it doesn’t come much cooler than that.

Fellini would have approved.

Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot

The long-running show that hit (and sometimes missed) its target

Don’t get too comfortable Jackie.

The Golden Shot hit our screens on the 1st July 1967 at 8.54. A curious time for a, then, curious programme, a programme that was rarely off the telly for the next eight years. Based on a German show Der Goldener Schuss, it was one of the first shows (I refuse to use that irritating Americanism ‘gameshow’) to use state of the art technology to help people win prizes. And they were cash prizes worth winning, the ultimate winner having the opportunity to compete for £1000 guineas! Yes, guineas, that quaint denomination used right up to the end of the 70s in an attempt to give certain TV shows a bit of ‘class’. It made the prize seem slightly less vulgar, even for ITV. Competitors had to use various types of machine which hurled projectiles at scenery, the aim being to progress to the next round by puncturing apples. But enough of the format, anyone reading this will know all about that. What’s much more interesting is how this show evolved over its eight year run.

I remember watching the very first Golden Shot, and even at the tender age of 7 being aware that this show was very pedestrian and lacked energy (though I wouldn’t have expressed this observation in exactly those terms). The host was Canadian singer and TV host, Jackie Rae. An affable enough guy, he seemed like the moose caught in the crosshairs. Not an ideal look with all these weapons around. Jackie had been spotted playing a quiz show host on the Charlie Drake Show by the producer, missing the point that playing a quiz show host is very different to being one. In Jackie’s defence, however, he was far from being the worst host The Golden Shot ever had. One critic described TGS as ‘..the deadest, dead duck ever.’ How wrong he was.

Bob, the consummate host, imparts GOOD NEWS during the 1970 power cuts!

And talking of Golden Shot hosts, The £1000 guinea winner was always Mr Bob Monkhouse. After appearing as a guest on an early show Monkhouse decided it was the perfect vehicle for his unique brand of quick-fire showbiz repartee and by episode 15 poor old Jackie Rae was fired(ho ho). Monkhouse took the whole show under his wing to the extent that he even designed some of the backdrops. His extraordinary ability to ‘fill’ during the many instances of technical breakdown (this was a live show) was invaluable and the awkward longueurs during the Jackie Rae regime were no more. Being paid a mammoth (for the time) £750 per episode, Bob had hit the bullseye!

The above episode demonstrates clearly what an absolute pro Monkhouse was showing the imperturbable qualities required to host a live show where so much can go wrong. No one ever came close to his mastery. And how quaint is it that the contestants are all referred to as Mr and Mrs!

As with everything 60s and 70s, the show had to have a catchphrase and Bob was only too happy to oblige. At the start of every firing attempt by a contestant, health and safety (or what constituted health and safety in those days. See bullet-catching man, below) required the host to ask the crossbow to be loaded. A supernumeracy would then load the dart, or bolt. During Jackie Rae‘s tenure he would say ‘Heinz the bolt!’, he being the inventor of the game. Bob decided this should be more snappy and alliterative and despite strong votes for ‘Basil’ and ‘Bartholemew’, ‘Bernie’ was eventually chosen and ‘Bernie the Bolt’ became the show’s iconic catchphrase, remembered to this day.

Bob firing on all cylinders

The show introduced us to a few 70s iconographic elements but the most enduring of those was The Golden Girls! Even spawning a long-running (unrelated) US comedy show. The original Golden Girls were tall, blond and dressed arse to tit in gold. Gold lame that is. Two of the originals didn’t last long due to personality bypasses, the only original with any longevity, and of any interest, was Carol Dilworth.

The one and only Carol Dilworth

Carol’s 60s and 70s credentials are cast iron. The lovely Carol was a Golden Girl for 91 episodes beginning in the very first show in 1967 and continuing right up to 1969. Of course, Carol really wanted to be an actress and despite appearing in Cliff Richard vehicle The Young Ones in 1961 as a character-stretching ‘Teenage Girl’ and a one-line role in Hammer House of Horror, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd was not be. A brief flurry of activity as ‘Girl with dog‘ in Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), a blink-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance in iconic 70s mega series Budgie (See Like A Bolt From The Blue..The Golden Shot), led to Carol returning to what she knew best and a short stint as a hostess in Sale of the Century beckoned. But we hadn’t heard the last of Carol! She married Tremeloes‘ guitarist Chip Hawkes in a 60s marriage made in tabloid heaven. A few years later and they produce 80s icon, the one and only Chesney Hawkes. The Young Ones, The Golden Shot, The Tremeloes, Budgie, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), Sale of the Century, Chesney Hawkes. Not a bad 60s and 70s CV. I may make her the patron saint of this blog. The Joan D’arc, the Boudicca, the Brittania of bargain basement 70s telly! Unless, of course, we come across a more deserving figure….

Step forward, Anne Aston! Anne joined TGS in episode one of the second series and clocked up 191 episodes until the very last show in 1975. Anne, or ‘Little Annie’, as Monkhouse unpatronisingly described her, (Golden) shot to fame when it became apparent she couldn’t work out the competitors’ scores and often got them wrong. Whether this was deliberate, as we well know everyone on telly must have their own schtick, or was genuine, it certainly set the women’s movement back 20 years. But, obviously ‘Little Annie’ really wanted to be an actress. Despite landing a starring role in the carry-on style ‘Up The Chastity Belt’ with Frankie Howerd and a small part in Jason King, Annie’s future was not going to be in front of the camera. Coastal summer seasons and pantos beckoned until The Golden Shot was just a distant memory and pocket calculators had become the norm. Not being able to count was no longer cute.

Don’t count on an acting career, Annie.

A long-running feature on TGS was ‘Maid of the Month‘. This typically 70s concept was for a current media lovely to be a Golden Girl for a month. Inevitably a glamour model or occasionally an unemployed actress might fill the void. One of those was a blonde Scandinavian actress called Ute Stensgaard. On one show Ute, while introducing competitors, was wearing a garment which was the height of fashion in 1972 (in London, at least). ‘Is that a see-through blouse, Ute?’ asks Bob. ‘Yes it is‘ said Ute. ‘I’ll have to look into that,’ leered Bob. Well, it was the 70s.

A particularly interesting aspect of this period was the range of guests that appeared on variety shows. All shows whether Lulu, Cilla, Cliff, Dusty, Englebert or even TGS had to have guests, if just to give the talent a short break, particularly important on live shows. As there were such demands for guests, and familiar guests at that, sometimes shows struggled to secure the services of Vince Hill, Clodagh Rogers, Dorothy Squires or any other similar ‘C list celeb. Producers had, therefore, to take chances, maybe even experiment. TGS was no exception and as it usually had a seemingly interminable 56 week run, some of the guests who appeared became curiouser and curiouser. One week we had BeBop supremo Dizzy Gillespie and his band playing some avant garde, free-forming jazz. People were astonished at just how much he could inflate his cheeks. A strange brew for Sunday teatime. The legendary Tiny Tim, in one of his rare British TV appearances, also turned up one Sunday afternoon (See The Utterly Weird Adventures Of Tiny Tim).

Dizzy blowin’ up a storm at Sunday tea time

But the oddest act ever to grace the ATV studios’ stage featured an elaborate routine which involved a performer who purported to be able to catch a fired bullet between his teeth. Firstly, he chose a, supposed, member of the audience to ‘help’ him with the act. This lucky individual was then instructed to load a rifle, aim and then fire it at the performer’s mouth and he would catch the bullet between his teeth. The tension surrounding this highly stylised act was ramped up courtesy of an increasingly louder drum roll until the gun was fired by the improbably calm ‘member of the studio audience.’ The gun fired, the performer lurched backwards with a Captain Hurricane-like ‘AIIIIEEE’ and, when he’d regained his balance, he removed the slug from between his teeth and dropped it into an awaiting saucer. The audience goes bananas! Amazing! Unbelievable! Not half, as a real gun would have taken the back of his fucking head off and splattered his brains across the studio backdrop. Not to put too fine a point on it. But this is Sunday tea-time and Songs of Praise will be following in half and hour so everything is fine. ‘And that deserves a huge round of applause‘ entreats Bob. Such was 70s variety.

The calmer waters of TGS were thrown into turmoil in 1972, however, when the razor-sharp witted Bob ‘Mr Golden Shot’ Monkhouse was accused by a producer of accepting bribes from Wilkinson Sword, a company who had provided prizes for the show. Bob was summarily sacked and in his last show he made it quite clear he was being made a scapegoat and voiced his displeasure at the producers. In his autobiography written years later it was made clear it had all been a huge misunderstanding and the producers had been wrong to sack him. But, needless to say, Bob had the last laugh.

His replacement, Norman ‘Roses Grow On You‘ Vaughan, had presented the live Sunday Night At The London Palladium (swinging/dodgy) and seemed an, albeit, inferior shoo-in. Monkhouse described him as taking to the show like ‘a cat to water’ and he wasn’t wrong. Vaughan struggled badly with the quick-fire, quick-thinking format. ‘These are the jokes, folks‘ he’d plead with the taciturn studio audience as the sweat rolled visibly down his powdered forehead. He was released, mercifully, from his contract a year later. He went on to develop another 70s and 80s iconic quiz show, Bullseye, which was a bit like a pub version of The Golden Shot. It leapt on the popular bandwagon of televised darts in the 70s, but much more on that later. Vaughan’s TV career, however, nosedived.

Yes, definitely dodgy Norman.

Vaughan’s replacement was the hapless Charlie Williams. A former professional footballer with Doncaster Rovers FC, of Barbadian heritage and graduate of ITV’s deeply suspect The Comedians, Charlie probably couldn’t quite believe he’d been handed one of the biggest jobs on telly. Much respect to TGS producers for giving a black comedian with a thick Yorkshire accent the job, the 70s was hardly a decade of racial harmony, but it was just too much for poor old Charlie. When compared to the ultra professional Bob Monkhouse there was no comparison. Charlie was affable, like Jackie Rae and Norman Vaughan but affability is a one-way corridor and he also couldn’t carry a fast-paced live show. His discomfort was palpable and there was only so many times he could get titters by calling contestants ‘ow’d flower.’ He even resorted to telling racist jokes in a desperate attempt to win the audience over. After only six months and the show haemorrhaging viewers, the producers returned, cap in hand, and begged Monkhouse to return. Monkhouse saw his chance and only agreed to come back if ATV would let him do a UK version of the American Hollywood Squares, which was called Celebrity Squares here. They, of course, agreed.

Poor ow’d Charlie looks around for help.

The newly revamped TGS had a jaunty new theme tune, ‘Golden Day’ by ubiquitous songster, Barry Blue (‘Dancing On A Saturday Night’. ‘Do You Wanna Dance’), whose real name is oddly Barry Green. But even with the addition of a new Golden Girl, ex-Rolf’s Young Generation and Ty-Phoo tea girl Wei Wei Wong, it was too little, too late and after a year the show had shot its bolt and was put to sleep humanely. Almost everyone growing up in the 70s watched TGS each Sunday teatime and its demise struck a chord, although maybe not at the time.

Bob, of course, never looked back and hosted a string of quiz shows including Bob’s Full House, Family Fortunes and Bob’s Your Uncle as well as the revamp of Opportunity Knocks (Hughie Green will have been spinning in his grave). He even had his own chat show and various other vehicles which he carried off with customary aplomb. But it was The Golden Shot that propelled him into the light entertainment stratosphere and for that he will always be a 70s icon, as will, of course, The Golden Shot.

And remember, hang on to your hollyhocks!

Annie looking a little put out at the new Golden Girl.